Hanover, College keep local mask mandates in place despite statewide expiration
The decision comes as local and statewide vaccination rates continue to climb.
Hanover will maintain its mask mandate until experts from the town, College and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center agree that it should be lifted, according to town manager Julia Griffin.
Although New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu allowed the statewide mask mandate to expire on April 16, Hanover and other surrounding towns will continue their local ordinances. At the College, face coverings are required in indoor settings and most outdoor settings.
In a press release, the governor said that the move was to avoid “arbitrary dates unsupported by the data and the science.” Localities and businesses are still able to implement local ordinances — the decision only lifts the statewide mandate — and residents are still encouraged to wear masks and maintain physical distancing, the press release notes.
New Hampshire is the first Northeastern state to lift its mask mandate. In addition to New Hampshire, 12 of the 39 states with statewide mask ordinances — Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming — have lifted them through gubernatorial orders, legislative action or court order.
Sununu cited improving pandemic-related statistics, including increasing vaccination rates, as part of the decision to not renew the policy. As of April 26, 29.5% of the New Hampshire population has been fully vaccinated, and 59.5% has received their first dose, according to data from The New York Times. Grafton County is running slightly ahead of the state average — at least 32% of its population has been fully vaccinated, including 69% of residents over the age of 65.
According to COVID-19 task force co-chair Lisa Adams, vaccination rates need to reach 70% to 90% before achieving herd immunity.
Adams added that prevention of transmission is multifaceted and not simply about vaccination rates — mask mandates, for instance, have also proven effective in decreasing cases of COVID-19.
“You just increase your chances of preventing transmission by following several different practices — it’s not just one,” Adams said. “I would still be encouraging people to wear masks, especially when they’re indoors.”
Because life on campus involves many students congregating together in close quarters, Adams said that the policies needed to keep the Dartmouth community safe may be more “conservative” than those required in a town setting. Adams added that she believes masks should be used for the rest of the calendar year throughout the country.
Hanover town manager Julia Griffin said she received no warning from Sununu prior to the press conference announcing the expiration of the statewide mask mandate, but noted that “nothing is changing” in Hanover regarding community safety policies.
“We heard right away from [Griffin] that [the town has] no immediate plans of lifting the mask mandates for the town of Hanover, and that is well-aligned with what our policy is going to be on campus,” Adams said.
Hanover’s mask mandate requires that residents wear masks while inside businesses, waiting in line, or outside in places where distancing “is not possible due to pedestrian congestion.”
Other Upper Valley towns with local mask mandates include Lebanon, Enfield and Lyme. Just across the river, Vermont also has a statewide mandate.
Griffin said she believes that Sununu’s decision to lift the state’s mask mandate was politically motivated.
“All too often, we have seen our governor make decisions through the pandemic that [have] been more based in the politics and not in … public health science,” she said.
According to Griffin, the town’s Selectboard consults with health staff, advisors at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Dartmouth’s COVID-19 task force. A mask mandate will remain in place in Hanover until all parties agree it is no longer necessary, she said.
Griffin added that for some local businesses, the state mask mandate helped mitigate scenarios in which patrons may refuse to wear a mask, allowing business owners to point customers to state policies. Local businesses dealt with these types of conflicts when Hanover’s mask mandate began in August, but Sununu did not issue a statewide mask mandate until November, she said.
“Once you lift that [statewide mask mandate], you’re leaving all of us to our own individual community devices, and that can be more difficult,” Griffin said.
General manager of Molly’s Restaurant and Bar Jennifer Packard said that Molly’s will follow the local ordinance by continuing to enforce a mask mandate.
“We have to protect our local community and our team members,” Packard said. “... Hanover has done the research that they feel is important and necessary to make that decision, and we’ll back up the town.”
The town will continue to make efforts to spread awareness about its mask mandate as visitors flock to Hanover for the summer, Griffin said, including displaying “enhanced signage” and electronic message boards along main roadway entrances to notify visitors of the policy.