No end in sight for mask mandates

Rising Covid numbers in New Hampshire raise concerns, but House bill seeks to bar enforcement
Masks Are Required For Entry Sign

A bill making its way through the New Hampshire House would prevent stores and businesses from implementing mask mandates of their own.

This week, nearly all adult residents of New Hampshire will be eligible to schedule a Covid-19 vaccine appointment. Don’t throw your mask out yet, though.

Late last week, Gov. Chris Sununu said the statewide mask mandate would be extended along with the state of emergency. How long this mandate will be further extended is still unclear.

New Hampshire is still on the precipice of another surge in coronavirus cases. Since the beginning of the month, new cases have steadily risen within the state and beyond, perhaps due to contagious variants or university students returning from spring break.

Despite the rise in cases, some states, like Texas and Mississippi, have lifted their mandates, drawing criticisms from public health officials and  a warning from the president.

“This is deadly serious,” President Biden said Monday, urging governors to reinstate mask mandates and other Covid-related restrictions.

State and federal health officials have pleaded with the public to remain vigilant about Covid precautions such as mask wearing and social distancing. Wearing a mask, or even two, remains one of the most useful tools for preventing the spread of Covid-19.

“One of my concerns is that people have heard about some of the relaxation and restrictions. My concern is that some people have taken that to mean that there’s no need for any precaution,” said Dr. Ben Chan, the state epidemiologist. “There’s a real balancing act, I think, to be had here.”

The CDC recommends wearing masks and social distancing in public even for those who are fully vaccinated, as they may be able spread the virus to others. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, said masks won’t be necessary once an overwhelming number of American’s are vaccinated, adding that masks likely won’t be needed by Summer 2022.

Pending legislation

However, lawmakers in Concord are working to overturn Gov. Chris Sununu’s mask mandate before then – and prevent stores and businesses from implementing mandates of their own.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Barbara Comtois, a Barnstead Republican, would make it illegal for a place of public accommodation to deny entry to someone “because they have declined a medical treatment, medical test, or vaccination or because they refuse to use a medical device.”

The bill, which would expand the state’s anti-discrimination statute to include a new category, would also prevent businesses from screening between vaccinated and unvaccinated people for Covid-19.

Comtois said the bill was a matter of fairness for people with disabilities who can’t wear masks indoors, arguing the pandemic had created two classes of citizens.

Critics on the House, Human Services and Elderly Affairs Committee took issue with the breadth of the bill, with some questioning its underlying purpose.

Those more supportive raised concerns that it would bring about negative side effects for hospitals and schools.

And some questioned why the state would move away from allowing businesses to determine their own mask policies.

Currently, all state businesses are required to mandate masks  under an executive order signed by Sununu in November. Comtois’s bill was co-sponsored by nine other Republican representatives.

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