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Sununu announces mask-wearing campaign, lawmakers OK mandate

Published: Jul. 21, 2020 at 1:31 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 21, 2020 at 8:56 PM EDT
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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced a public service campaign Tuesday to encourage wearing masks during the coronavirus pandemic as state lawmakers approved a policy requiring masks when they enter the Statehouse.

The social media-based campaign will target people between the ages of 15-40. Data suggests this group has slightly lower mask usage nationally, he said. Just as disposable masks were made available earlier this year for businesses, Sununu said a couple hundred thousand reusable cloth masks will be made available soon through Community Action Programs, health district offices and school districts.

He said while New Hampshire has been managing its coronavirus cases, “it would just be very naive to think that we would somehow be immune from the surges you’re seeing in the rest of the country.”

Sununu has not issued a statewide mask mandate. In his office, “if social distancing isn’t possible, then we wear a mask,” he said. He also has worn a mask when running errands to stores.

The Statehouse is currently just open to legislative staff and members; it is not yet open to the general public. But the measure approved 11-0 Tuesday by the New Hampshire Joint Committee on Legislative Facilities applies to “all persons.”

The policy applies to all areas of the complex under the use and control of the legislative branch. It does not apply to those areas under the use and control of the executive branch, including Sununu’s office, the Executive Council chamber and offices, and the Secretary of State’s office.

If a person does not have a proper face covering, one will be provided. Exceptions will be made for children under age 6 and for people for whom face coverings would harm their health or safety.

Legislators and legislative staff are not required to wear face coverings when they consistently can maintain at least 6 feet (2 meters) of social distancing.

Senate President Donna Soucy and House Speaker Steve Shurtleff called the measure “a commonsense approach to protect the health and safety of members and employees.”

Other coronavirus-related developments in New Hampshire:

VA HELP

A cargo plane on Tuesday brought to New Hampshire 400,000 medical gowns, which will be shipped to Veterans Affairs hospitals throughout the country.

“This is an all hands on deck effort, and New Hampshire is proud to play our part to help deliver these lifesaving materials to VA hospitals across the country,” Gov. Chris Sununu said.

This is the seventh flight secured by the state of New Hampshire, with the help of Dean Kamen and others, to have landed at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport carrying personal protective equipment, which has since been distributed to the areas of greatest need across the state and country. The VA will reimburse the state for the gowns.

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BACK TO SCHOOL PLANS

The school board in New Hampshire’s largest city has voted in favor of mandatory face coverings in schools and starting the year on Sept. 9, one week after the originally scheduled start date.

Manchester’s Board of School Committee also voted that all desks have at least of 6 feet (2 meters) of social distance within classrooms.

School officials are considering three models for a return to schooling in the fall: 100% in-person, a hybrid model or completely remote learning.

A draft of Manchester’s school reopening plan is expected from the superintendent by Aug. 10.

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SEXUAL ASSAULT VICTIMS PROTECTION

Three bills signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu that protect victims and survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence “could not be timelier” during the coronavirus pandemic, the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence said.

“Expanding vital protections, services, and support, especially amidst this global pandemic, will improve the lives of survivors, who are under incredible pressure and danger due to the fallout of COVID-19,” group spokesperson Amanda Grady Sexton said in a statement Monday.

One measure prohibits sexual contact between New Hampshire teachers and students, regardless of a student’s age. Another bill eliminates a statute of limitations for someone to bring a civil lawsuit for damages because of a sexual assault. A third bill will help prevent and deter domestic violence by extending the waiting period for violent offenders to petition for annulment of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense.

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THE NUMBERS

As of Tuesday, 6,262 people had tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, an increase of 16 cases. Two new deaths were announced, for a total of 400.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause more severe illness and can lead to death.

(Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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