People in New Hampshire will be required to wear masks when they can't social distance starting Friday, Gov. Chris Sununu said at a news conference on the coronavirus pandemic Thursday.
Under his executive order, in effect through Jan. 15, anyone over 5 years old will have to wear a mask or face covering whenever they're in public, whether indoors or outdoors, and can't keep at least 6 feet away from people they don't live with.
Sununu also announced that $95 million would be distributed to nearly 1,900 small businesses under the second round of the Main Street Relief Fund. He reiterated his call for residents to be cautious gathering this Thanksgiving and said he'll be adapting his inauguration on Jan. 7 to the times, moving it outdoors.
Among the exceptions to the mask mandate are institutions, like restaurants and schools, where there are already mask-wearing rules in place. Asked about enforcement of the mandate, Sununu said it was more about educating people and encouraging the entire state to get on board with wearing a mask.
The decision "did not come lightly. Many factors were clearly taken into consideration," Sununu said. Among those factors were coronavirus metrics, which have been steadily increasing but which were "popping this past week."
The state saw a record number of new coronavirus cases, 529, on Thursday. There were an average of 400 infections being detected per day over the last week, more than twice what the metric was showing two weeks ago, State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said.
The number of people in New Hampshire hospitals has roughly doubled as well, to 98. Sununu noted that there is still hospital capacity but Thursday's announcement is meant to prevent an overload on the health care system.
Sununu has long advocated for mask wearing, but it hasn't been required. However, he said he felt the order was in citizens' best interest, with New Hampshire's coronavirus tests returning positive at higher rates, the virus now detected in all 10 counties and outbreaks at 11 long-term care facilities.
"It works, the data shows that. It has been proven," Sununu said of masks.
New Hampshire has sought to help its small businesses with its Main Street Relief Fund. Sununu said Thursday that, for the second round, more than half of the $95 million being distributed will go to 680 first-time applicants.
Those businesses will receive a large portion, $78,000, than the roughly 1,200 applicants who received money in the previous round of the Main Street Relief Fund, Sununu said.
"It's not chump change, it's money to pay bills, pay taxes," he said.
With the pandemic likely affecting New Hampshire into the winter, Sununu said he's taking the Jan. 7 inauguration outside, making it a "socially distanced, outdoor swearing-in event."
And rather than hold the traditional indoor party, which would be likely to spread the virus, the soon-to-be third-term governor said his team will instead raise money and press for sponsorships for a series of free, outdoor events for families to be held around the state this summer.
He said that's in recognition of the the sacrifices all Granite Staters are making and will have to make to get through to the other side of the pandemic.
More than 15,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in New Hampshire since the start of the pandemic. Two new deaths were announced Thursday, bringing the total to 506.
Earlier this week, Sununu asked President Donald Trump to authorize more National Guard personnel to help distribute coronavirus vaccines once they are made available.
Sununu received approval for up to 400 guard personnel through Dec. 31 to help with testing, COVID-19 mapping, supporting warehouse and personal protective equipment distribution, and establishing alternate care sites and surge hospitals across the state. He is now asking to retain up to 900 guard personnel through March 31, 2021.
In a letter to Trump on Tuesday, Sununu said that the guard's mission will "significantly increase beyond the current expiration date to a myriad of medical, public health and economic challenges."
"The New Hampshire National Guard's support will be critical to our ability to vaccinate the citizens of our state," he added.