New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu used an ice hockey analogy to defend his decision not to implement another mask mandate despite rising COVID-19 cases Sunday, saying it's like being put "in the penalty box."
Appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation," Sununu was asked repeatedly why he isn't implementing a mask mandate.
"Well, it's not necessarily a light lift. Look, masks are incredibly important, there's no doubt about it," he said. "Schools can do it, localities can do it if they want to. But when you look at all these different mandates that you can or cannot put in place there is always a downside as well. And we talk about the Swiss cheese effect, right? Social distancing, mask, far and away the most important thing is get vaccinated, get your boosters, quick access to testing."
The governor also pointed out that a mask mandate wouldn't necessarily stop the spread between family members over the holidays. He said home testing is a much more important way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Sununu was then asked if the anti-vaccine protesters outside his home and others who have opposed the measures he put in place earlier in the pandemic is part of the reason he isn't putting a mask mandate in place.
"No, no. It's not a factor at all," he said, calling that group "a very small contingency."
Sununu said almost no states have a mask mandate right now, and he sees that as a very restrictive tool.
"As a governor, if you were to do that, every district, every county, whether you have high transmission levels, whether you're highly vaccinated or not, it covers everybody," he said. "And what you're really telling folks is thank you for making the sacrifice and getting the vaccine, getting the boosters, doing the right thing and you're still in the penalty box."
When he received some pushback on his "penalty box" reference, Sununu explained further.
"If I were to put a mask mandate in now, when do I undo it?" he asked. "COVID isn't going away for the next couple of years. We're going to have omicron, we are going to have new variants."
At his COVID press conference last week, Sununu announced that National Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency teams were being deployed to New Hampshire to help manage a severe winter surge in cases.
He said FEMA would be sending 24 healthcare professionals to Elliot Hospital in Manchester as early as last weekend. A second FEMA team of 30 paramedics will be arriving in the state by the end of this week and will be assigned to hospitals with the highest COVID burden.
In addition, the governor said he is deploying 70 National Guard members to hospitals in the coming weeks to help with back room and clerical duties, freeing up hospital employees to focus on more critical tasks. They will be deployed to the hospitals with the most severe need.
"This is an all-hands-on-deck effort," Sununu said. "The reality of what's happening inside the hospitals is scary stuff."
Sununu added that the Executive Council approved a $6 million contract Wednesday for strike teams at long-term care facilities, which was one of the greatest needs cited by hospital CEOs as a way to help them open up beds. And he said the state is working to expedite licenses for healthcare professionals to help bolster the ranks.
Last week's COVID-19 case positivity rate in New Hampshire was 12.3%, with cases averaging 1,200 to 1,300 a day.