New Hampshire is dropping its suggestion that people wear masks in “most indoor and outdoor settings” and the requirement that people must quarantine after coming in contact with someone in the community with COVID-19.
The announcements came at Gov. Chris Sununu’s 111th and last regular briefing on the state’s response to the pandemic.
Although 100,000 residents have been infected and 1,366 have died, Sununu said New Hampshire has emerged from the crisis “better than most” and has one of the nation’s fastest-growing economies.
Sununu said his biggest regret was early on relying too much on the federal government to deliver what state leaders said they needed to protect their residents.
Last year, after some harsh words for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Sununu went out, with the help of Bedford inventor Dean Kamen, and created a national model for buying and airlifting massive amounts of personal protection equipment from the Far East.
The state’s own campaign was so robust that, at one point, it ended up supplying the entire Department of Veterans Affairs’ demand for PPE.
Sununu offered his greatest lesson from the pandemic.
“When times are good, that is when you work the hardest to get your team, financials and infrastructure just right, so when the crisis hits, you are not scrambling,” Sununu said.
New Hampshire ended its mask mandate April 16, but the Department of Public Health Services had still advised the wearing of face coverings, especially indoors when people could not socially distance.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said that’s no longer necessary for most people.
That’s because more than 50% of the population is fully vaccinated, including 75% of those over 65, who are most at risk of serious illness from COVID.
The rate of community transmission is “minimal” statewide, with just over 1% of those tested showing positive for the virus.
Chan said those who are not vaccinated, are medically vulnerable or have a compromised immune system should consider wearing masks if they are in “high risk,” crowded locations.
The quarantine is still required for those in contact with an infected person in their own home, according to Dr. Beth Daly, state director of the infectious disease control bureau.
The state has suspended its program of community contact-tracing.
Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette said the state’s painstaking effort to bring the vaccine to more than 5,000 homebound residents is only 53 appointments away from completion.
Meanwhile, the number of viral outbreaks in long-term care, once a few dozen across the state, is down to one, at Birch Healthcare Center in Rochester.
“That’s quite an achievement,” Sununu said.