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Sununu says he's OK with town mask mandates; opposes one statewide

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Allegra Boverman for NHPR
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By Rick Green 

Keene Sentinel Source

Hours before Keene officials enacted an indoor face-mask mandate Thursday, Gov. Chris Sununu said while he has nothing against those rules for local communities, a statewide mandate doesn’t make sense.

Sununu also said at his weekly news conference that he’s not in favor of requiring masks in state buildings, including the Capitol, where he appeared without one at an Executive Council meeting on Dec. 8.

“If a municipality wants to put a mask mandate in place, they always have the ability and the right to do so, and we support their ability to do that based on transmission or what they might be seeing in their community,” Sununu said.

But he said it would not be tenable to seek to impose executive orders and mandates at a time when vaccines are widely available and since the virus may be present in society for years to come.

In terms of his own mask use, Sununu said he’s a “low-risk individual.”

“OK, if other folks want to wear a mask that’s great,” he said. “They can do that. I’ve gotten the vaccine. I’ve gotten the booster, and so I choose not to wear a mask in certain situations, and I wear a mask in other situations.”

Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, reported Thursday 1,126 new people diagnosed with the virus, 9,607 people currently infected, 463 people hospitalized and 11 more deaths, bringing the overall death toll to 1,828. The test positivity rate is high at 11.8 percent, he said at the news conference.

The overwhelming majority of those hospitalized are unvaccinated, according to Chan. Those who are not fully vaccinated have a significantly higher risk of being hospitalized or dying from the disease, he said.

Sununu said he visited Elliot Hospital in Manchester on Thursday and was struck by how hard COVID-19 is on families.

“It’s tough because when you’re in ICU, there’s really no family-member visitation,” he said.

Most if not all of the people in the hospital’s ICU were suffering from COVID-19, he noted. 

“A lot of them will be in ICUs and maybe on intubators for weeks and weeks and weeks, so it is a very tough atmosphere to be sure,” Sununu said.

People with COVID-19 so dominate the patient population of ICUs that other patients who are also seriously ill don't have access to these units, and this shows “how much worse COVID is than almost any other type of ailment,” he said.

The governor said he felt for family members who were unable to visit their desperately ill loved ones.

“Kids, spouses, they can’t be in there, which is why this vaccine is so critical, so important,” he said.

Sununu also spoke about those hooked up to life-saving machines in the ICU.

“You know, I can guarantee you, none of those individuals we saw today thought they’d be in that position a few months ago and there they are, and that was just one hospital out of 26.”

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.