By: Kevin Landrigan, New Hampshire Union Leader
CONCORD — Effective immediately, everyone at a “scheduled gathering” of 100 or more people in New Hampshire must wear a face covering, Gov. Chris Sununu announced Tuesday.
The specter of up to 250,000 motorcycle riders attending a 10-day rally in Sturgis, S.D., influenced what the governor called a “proactive” move to prevent super-spreading of COVID-19 in New Hampshire.
“We are really trying to stay proactive and ahead of the game heading into the fall season,” Sununu said of the executive order.
The state will impose fines against event organizers who fail to enforce this mandate, he said.
State prosecutors are working on what those fines would look like, Sununu said.
“Sturgis was a real warning sign to us. That brought a second level of awareness to us,” Sununu said. “This is something we can do reasonably.”
The two-term Republican governor said enforcement agents with the New Hampshire Liquor Commission will be “out in force” making sure bars and restaurant owners are complying with rules that state patrons are not to be “standing around” inside either establishment.
Sununu said he is confident that owners will make certain rules are followed, but state regulators have the authority to pull the liquor license of any violating business.
“There have been super-spread events tied to that conduct all over the country,” Sununu said.
Still not statewide
The mask mandate does not apply to private businesses or schools, unless they have a “prescheduled” event with a large crowd, such as an assembly in a school auditorium, Sununu said.
New Hampshire is the only state without a requirement that people wear face coverings in public if they are unable to practice social distancing.
Nashua and six other communities have adopted their own local ordinances requiring masks.
Sununu said enforcement of a statewide mandate would be difficult and that voluntary wearing of face coverings has risen dramatically in recent weeks.
“You can’t regulate everything and everyone all of the time,” Sununu said. This requirement puts the onus on the event organizer and not those in attendance, he said.
State officials on Tuesday announced 21 new COVID-19 cases and one new hospitalization.
New Hampshire has had just one reported death from COVID-19 in the past week, the lowest number since the first fatalities in March.
COVID-19 has been a contributing cause in 419 deaths in New Hampshire, with roughly 80% of those linked to long-term care settings.
Democratic candidate for governor Dan Feltes of Concord remained critical of Sununu.
“Governor Sununu is playing politics with public health. With no guidance on school reopening, with no action around the Trump rally, and with the lack of a mask requirement, Governor Sununu has shown he’s unwilling to make tough decisions that protect the public health,” Feltes said in a statement.
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