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N.H. drops indoor mask recommendation, pushes schools to transition away from mask mandates

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State health officials stressed that the decision to update school masking is because the risk of COVID-19 has been falling, not because masking is an ineffective strategy for reducing the spread of the virus

New Hampshire is no longer recommending universal indoor masking, as the omicron surge continues to wane.

Businesses can still have a mandate if they choose, and federal requirements for masking in health care facilities and on public transit still apply.

The new recommendation has more force in schools that still have masking requirements.

“Schools really need to transition their policies away from the mask mandates,” said Governor Chris Sununu at a press conference today in Concord.

Sununu said those mandates may now put schools in conflict with the state’s public health recommendation.

Some schools have already dropped their mask requirements, and others have been debating dropping theirs as cases and hospitalizations from the virus have continued to fall.

In a statement, the New Hampshire Department of Education said schools should adopt these new public health recommendations “as quickly as possible.”

The announcement is a marked shift in school masking authority in New Hampshire.

Ever since the statewide mask mandate ended last spring, the state has left masking decisions up to individual schools. It’s an approach that’s functioned as a double edged sword for many; both leaving schools vulnerable to angry parents but also giving them flexibility to adjust policy as they see fit.

On a call with schools Wednesday afternoon, state health officials warned it's too early to say goodbye to masking forever, even in schools.

Dr. Elizabeth Talbot, the deputy state epidemiologist, said a significant surge from new variants could lead to policy changes in the future.

“If there's a new letter of the Greek alphabet that shows itself,” she said “there will be changes in how we approach this to try to keep the community safe.”

State health officials also stressed that the decision to update school masking is because the risk of COVID-19 has been falling, not because masking is an ineffective strategy for reducing the spread of the virus.

They also said relaxing masking doesn’t mean other mitigation strategies in schools like testing and isolation for COVID-positive students and staff should be dropped.

“We're still in the midst of a pandemic.” Talbot said.

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