New Hampshire schools will no longer be able to mandate masks under the state’s new public health guidance on COVID-19.
Until Wednesday, the state recommended mask wearing in most indoor public spaces. With that recommendation dropped, schools that try to maintain mandates would run afoul of state laws requiring that each student be provided equitable access to education, Gov. Chris Sununu said.
“I don’t think this should be viewed as a drastic change or measure, it’s just kind of another step forward as we continue to return to the old normal,” Sununu said. “We know that masking can be a very powerful tool in times of surging transmissibility, but it obviously has drawbacks, especially for kids in schools and those with disabilities.”
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Schools will be given some time to transition their policies, given that students will be on vacation next week, the governor said. It’s unclear how many districts currently mandate masks; the Department of Education said it does not have a current tally.
The change reflects a recent drop in both new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations statewide.
“The risk from COVID-19 is decreasing,” said Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist. “We are recommending that face masks be worn based on individual preference and individual choice.”
Chan declined to take a position on whether it is safe to have the 400-member House return to the Statehouse for the first time since March 2020. A House spokesperson confirmed Wednesday that session days are planned for March 10, 17 and 31 in Representatives Hall, where lawmakers sit shoulder-to-shoulder instead of spread out like they have in other locations, including an athletic field and hotel expo center.
“We look at this as a package of intervention strategies, so it depends entirely on what other measures they have in place,” he said. “But again, the whole purpose of vaccination is to get people back to normal life functions, including the Legislature.”
House Democrats, who are in the minority and have unsuccessfully fought for a remote option for participation, objected to the decision to return to the Statehouse.
“Packing people into Representatives Hall like sardines with no mask or vaccination requirement or other prevention strategies is a disaster in the making,” said House Democratic Leader Rep. Renny Cushing.