At Thursday’s COVID-19 press briefing, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced a statewide mask mandate to take effect Friday, a tactic he has repeatedly declined to deploy in the fight against COVID-19.

“With rising cases,  substantial statewide community transmission, and an increase in hospitalizations — the data supports enacting a statewide mask mandate,” Sununu said. “Instituting this commonsense mask mandate today will allow us to keep our economy open and help ensure our health care system has the capacity and workforce it needs in the coming weeks. By wearing a mask, Granite Staters can keep our friends, family, neighbors, and critical workforce members and those they care for safe — without shutting down the economy.”

According to a statement from Sununu’s office, “all persons over the age of 5 within the State of New Hampshire shall wear mask or cloth face coverings over their noses and mouths any time they are in public spaces, indoors or outdoors, where they are unable to or do not consistently maintain a physical distance of at least six feet from persons outside their own households.”

Sununu’s decision means 37 states now mandate face coverings in public. As for local mask mandates, Sununu said the state’s will not supersede local efforts and that local communities are free to impose more strict mandates if they choose.

Sununu took several questions regarding enforcement, but he avoided giving any specific details regarding fines, arrests or other specific police actions. “We are going to rely on education,” Sununu said, but he acknowledged that people who flaunted the mandate could face consequences.

Like the rest of America, New Hampshire has seen a surge in positive tests, hospitalizations and fatalities. But while the increases have been relatively large on a percentage basis, New Hampshire’s numbers before the fall surge were so low that percentages can be deceiving.

For example, while the positive test rate has soared, it’s still around 3.5 percent and the ninth lowest in the nation. The state’s COVID-19 death rate is the tenth lowest.

Reaction to Sununu’s order from opponents of a mask mandate was swift and angry.

“I will be attending the House Republican caucus tomorrow without a mask,” said state rep-elect Keith Ammon (R-New Boston.) “Try and stop me.”

ReOpenNH, an organization that has opposed COVID-19 restrictions from the beginning of the pandemic, tweeted: “Gov. Chris Sununu, this a betrayal to the idea of #LiveFreeOrDie. What a disgrace!”

And conservative activist Kimberly Morin added: “This is bullsh*t and NOT based on ACTUAL science.”

Democrats, on the other hand, took a more “I told you so” stance:

“Well, it’s about time. I just sayin’,” tweeted Rep. Wendy Chase (D-Rollinsford.)

“Right move,” said Rep. David Meuse (D- Portsmouth). “Way late on the timing. This was needed months ago. You ignored the science, ingratiated yourself with people hostile to public health, and sat back while NH communities struggled to pass their own mandates when you could have settled it with a stroke of a pen.”

Sununu’s order includes multiple exceptions including:

  • Educators, students, and staff within K-12 schools;
  • Any person consuming food or drink or sitting at a restaurant or table to eat or drink;
  • Any person engaged in physical strenuous physical activity;
  • Any person giving a religious, political, media, educational, cultural, musical, or theatrical presentation or performance for an audience;
  • Any public safety worker actively engaged in a public safety role and when a mask or face covering would seriously interfere in the performance of their public safety responsibilities.

“I understand a lot of folks are upset,” Sununu said in response to NH Republicans saying they will ignore the mandate. “It’s not a political issue it’s about numbers. If people don’t want to look at the data, that’s up to them.

“A mask mandate exists, it will exist tomorrow, and people need to understand: It is not about you. It’s about everyone around you. It isn’t speculation. It isn’t conjecture. It isn’t a hoax. This is so real,” Sununu said.