CONCORD — Health-care advocates again are urging Gov. Chris Sununu to impose a statewide mask mandate and want him to expand, rather than narrow, the state’s contact tracing of those who test positive for COVID-19.

The New Hampshire Science and Public Health Task Force, described on its Facebook page as a group of scientists and public health education experts, made a Right-to-Know law request to the Sununu administration for an accounting of the $61 million in federal grants for contact tracing.

“We would like to know what happened to that money,” said Mindi Messmer, an environmental consultant who was the Democratic nominee for the Executive Council seat that Rye Republican Janet Stevens won Nov. 3.

The group said Sununu should further limit gatherings to 10 people and ask people to avoid bars and restaurants for two weeks.

Sununu has said most citizens are voluntarily wearing masks in public, and officials in cities or towns are free to adopt their own local mandates, as the Berlin City Council did last Monday.

Last August, Sununu approved a face-covering requirement for gatherings of more than 100 people. Schools were exempt from the mandate, which was announced right before Laconia Motorcycle Week.

Dr. Alain Ades of New Castle said New Hampshire should join the 36 states that have a broad mask requirement.

“I am really depressed and shocked that the government in the state of New Hampshire has not taken every means possible to prevent death, destruction and sickness in their state which is so, so easily done,” Ades said.

Dr. Ben Locwin, an expert in infectious disease epidemiology, urged residents to order takeout or buy gift cards to support local restaurants.

“It is a false choice between controlling the virus and looking out for the economy, because public health and economic recovery are intrinsically linked,” Locwin said. “Public health is at its best when there is a thriving economy.”

Last week, Sununu administration officials said the state was narrowing the focus of its contact tracing program to focus on higher-risk groups as a spike in positive cases continues.

The contact-tracing team’s priorities are people over 60 or under 18 and all health-care workers, officials said.

Since the pandemic began, the task force has maintained that New Hampshire has not had enough contact tracers.

Dr. Rich DiPentima, a former state epidemiologist, said the state should do more, but it’s got a lot of ground to cover.

“It is almost impossible to do catch-up when you have 200 cases a day and there are four or five contacts. That’s 1,000 people that have to be followed up,” DiPentima said.

“So every day you are adding on another 1,000. The cumulative numbers become so overwhelming that it is beyond the capability of the state, so they have thrown up their hands.”

Wednesday, December 02, 2020