NEW HAMPSHIRE’s elected Republican officials are letting the state down.

Gov. Chris Sununu’s decision to end New Hampshire’s mask mandate makes no sense from a health and safety standpoint. Hundreds of new COVID cases are occurring every day at levels higher than when he instituted it, yet he has brushed off the concerns of health professionals. State Sen. Dr. Tom Sherman deemed it premature. Rich DiPentima, New Hampshire’s former chief of epidemiology, said we need another month or two to get COVID behind us.

Sununu’s rationale was that 70% of those over age 65 had been vaccinated, and that 95% of those over 16 were eligible to be vaccinated. But being eligible is not the same as being vaccinated. At the time of his decision, only 18% of the residents of Hillsborough County, our most populous and most diverse county, had been vaccinated.

He also cited the lower death rate, ignoring the very real and serious health and economic consequences of COVID to many of those who survive the virus. As DiPentima pointed out, COVID is causing long-term complications, including neurological, pulmonary and cardiac issues.

Sununu also said he looked at hospital capacity and staffing in making the decision. But as reported by New Hampshire Public Radio, Nashua’s Southern New Hampshire Medical Center, Concord Hospital, Dover’s Wentworth-Douglass and Manchester’s Catholic Medical Center all reported more coronavirus cases than in November.

In other words, there are several good health and safety reasons to keep the mask mandate in effect. There is no reason to end it, other than to satisfy a small minority who complain that having to wear masks somehow is too much of an imposition on their freedom. What is next for these folks — a bill in the Legislature to ban retail stores from posting “No shirts, no shoes, no service” signs?

It would not surprise me if such a bill were introduced. Members of the Legislature’s self-styled Freedom Caucus already are pushing through ideologically driven legislation dictating what private companies and employers can say or do in operating their businesses.

One irresponsible bill prohibits employers from requiring vaccinations for employment. Unless an employer can prove the failure to vaccinate poses a direct threat, the employer cannot require vaccinations of any kind. The problem with the direct threat language is that it relies on a test contained in the Americans With Disabilities Act, which is not at all applicable to vaccinations. It applies to an employee’s “present ability” to perform a job.

It has little bearing, for example, on whether someone without a measles vaccination should work in a hospital, or a grocery store, or at an airport terminal, or any other job that deals with the public or is performed in close contact with other employees.

This bill threatens the health and safety of kids too young to be immunized and adults with medical conditions preventing immunization.

It also shows the Republicans’ ascendant extreme right wing believes in using government regulation to impose its dangerous, anti-science ideology on the rest of us.

That same right wing is pushing a budget bill that will limit free speech. It prohibits schools and companies that have contracts with the state from dissemination of “certain divisive concepts related to sex and race.” You can discuss these “divisive” concepts, but only “in an objective manner and without endorsement.” And you cannot teach it in a way that might be perceived as “race or sex scapegoating.”

The Republicans are trying to sell this provision as anti-discrimination, when in fact it will stifle the open discussion of discrimination.

An honest discussion of the massacre of Blacks in Tulsa, Okla., or the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, is meaningless without disclosure of the perpetrators’ race. That is not scapegoating. Neither is explaining that a Confederate flag is a symbol of White supremacism, and that White supremacism is wrong.

America is stronger when it confronts the rights and the wrongs of both the past and present. It is how we grow and progress as a nation.

It is time for Gov. Sununu and the Republican legislative leadership to stop bowing to the ideological extremists in their party. They should be working for the people of the state, not a minority that has discarded common sense in favor of ideological nonsense.

Manchester’s Kathy Sullivan is the former chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party.

Thursday, May 06, 2021
Wednesday, May 05, 2021
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