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New Hampshire issues new mask mandate ahead of motorcycle rally: "Sturgis was a clear warning sign to us"

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New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu issued an executive order Tuesday requiring masks to be worn at scheduled gatherings of more than 100 people. The order will be put to the test August 22-30 at the annual Laconia Motorcycle Week, which typically attracts thousands of people to the state.

It's a smaller version of the 80th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, a 10-day event that began Friday in South Dakota. Organizers there expect about 250,000 visitors from all over the country - about half the number of previous years but enough for local residents and a few bikers to worry about virus outbreaks.

"Sturgis was a clear warning sign to us," Sununu said. "I don't think anyone saw the photos out of Sturgis and thought, 'That looks safe.'"

Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally To Be Held Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
People cheer during a concert at the Full Throttle Saloon during the 80th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally on August 7, 2020 in Sturgis, South Dakota. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Attendees in Sturgis are being encouraged, but not required, to wear masks. Few appeared to be doing so.  

"I've been here since the beginning of July," one person in Sturgis told CBS News. "People are tired of being at home, you know. This is what this rally started about is freedom."  

The New Hampshire mandate won't apply to large workplaces or to schools, unless students gather for an assembly or other large event, Sununu said. But it would apply to gatherings such as a traveling religious revival headed to New Ipswich next week, and it will be enforced, he said.

The Department of Justice is still working on the details, but enforcement will be aimed at holding hosts and organizers accountable, rather than individuals.

"I'm not a big encourager of 'please drop a dime and snitch on your friends,'" he said. "We're going to have our enforcement teams out there ... we're going to have people in the field and working one-on-one, so we're not relying on people to send us their snitching Facebook photos."

Sununu, a Republican, has resisted calls to mandate the use of face coverings to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, and the new requirement falls far short of the mandates in the other five New England states, which generally require masks to be worn in public when social distancing isn't possible.

While public safety officials likely will handle enforcement of the mask requirements, the state's liquor enforcement officers will be increasing efforts to prevent spread of the virus at bars, Sununu said. Under current guidelines, patrons can not sit or stand at bars; instead drinks must be delivered to tables. Bars and restaurants that violate the rules could lose their liquor licenses.

"These are just common-sense enforcement measures, to help ensure we do not have the large scale closure of restaurants and bars like you're seeing in other states," he said.

As of Tuesday, 6,861 people had tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, an increase of 21 from the previous day. The number of deaths stayed at 419. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases decreased over the past two weeks from 33 cases per day on July 27 to 29 cases on Aug. 10.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause more severe illness and can lead to death.

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