CONCORD, N.H. (CBS) – New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced that the state will end its COVID mask mandate on Friday. Sununu signaled the decision was coming, saying Wednesday night during a virtual event with the Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth that it would be lifted "wicked soon."
"Tomorrow, New Hampshire will not renew the state's mask mandate," he said. "We appreciate the sacrifice people made. We know it wasn't easy for folks. But we will be ending the mask mandate on the 15th."
The Republican governor made the official announcement Thursday during his weekly COVID briefing.
Currently in New Hampshire, anyone age five and above is required to wear a mask in public when they are unable to maintain social distance.
Sununu said that the mask mandate being lifted will not prevent private businesses from requiring customers to wear masks.
"The pandemic is not over. And we are not claiming victory by any means," Sununu said.
All New Hampshire residents over 16 are now eligible to receive their COVID vaccine.
Health officials said the state's 7-day average of daily deaths has fallen to 0.6, the lowest since October 2020 before the mask mandate was in place. More than 70% of New Hampshire residents 65 and older have been vaccinated.
"We have been very careful from the beginning of this pandemic to take items up individually and make informed decisions," Sununu said. "We have never set arbitrary dates unsupported by the data and the science. It is important to note that this mandate going away will not limit or prevent the ability of private businesses and local cities and towns from requiring masks. Of course, we continue to encourage folks to wear masks when they are unable to socially distanced."
In Hampton Beach, there was celebration. "I think it's about time. I do. It's been a long year," said Paul Doyle as he walked the beach.
It's a spot where people without masks do not stand out as unusual, and businesses say the mandate has hurt them.
Kristen Statires, who owns Candy Corner, said last summer sales dropped by as much as 30%. "When the mask mandate is lifted, I think we'll also lift the restriction because more people are getting vaccinated, and I think it just makes an easier shopping experience especially on the beach," Statires said.
But a short trip across the border into Massachusetts, there isn't a maskless pedestrian to be found in Newburyport.
"We need to keep these masks on until we know we're at least approaching herd immunity. I think we're not there yet," said resident Patty Dorfman.
Store owners in Newburyport said the mask mandate has not hurt business. "We've come so far, why not just wait. It makes no sense to me," said Amy Richards, a clerk at the Salt Cellar.
Tufts Medical Center epidemiologist Dr. Shira Doron says this decision comes too soon and thinks masking should be one of the last things to go as we work our way out of this pandemic. "There's still a lot of COVID in the northeast, in general, the northeast lights up on the map," Dr. Doron said.
She worries about immunocompromised or unvaccinated people who might enter a business in New Hampshire this summer. "And not have them protected by a mask mandate. Because we do know, without the mandate, a lot of people won't do it."
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker addressed the question earlier this week during a news conference in Worcester. "The data tends to be a little unpredictable, so I'm hesitant to give a date," said Baker.
But his counterpart to the north says that date has arrived.
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