Masks will no longer be required in many New Hampshire school districts as both the state and the CDC drop their recommendations for their indoor use.

Some districts like Dover, Rochester, Somersworth, and the Oyster River school district resume classes on Monday while other districts like Epping, Portsmouth, and Exeter will begin their break on the 28th.

Gov. Chris Sununu ended the state's recommendation for indoor use on Wednesday and urged districts to drop their mandates.

"At this point in the pandemic, we are no longer recommending universal face masks for people in indoor public locations unless a person is required to wear a face mask for their specific situation," state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said during Wednesday's briefing.

The state Department of Education issued blunter guidance after the briefing, stating that the previous policy allowing districts to mandate their own mask requirement would be a violation of the new policy.

"Schools should transition to adopt these new public health recommendations as quickly as possible," read the guidance.

Newmarket Elementary School mask
Newmarket Elementary School mask (Erica Hiera)
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CDC Makes Big Changes

The CDC also made a major change in its guidance on Friday by introducing new metrics that take hospitalizations and hospital space into account when calculating the risk for COVID-19.

"This new framework moves beyond just looking at cases and test positivity to evaluate factors that reflect the severity of disease, including hospitalizations and hospital capacity, and helps to determine whether the level of COVID 19 and severe disease are low, medium, or high in a community," CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing on Friday.

Under the new guidelines, 70% of the country is at low or medium risk and masks are not recommended. The last update on Thursday puts Rockingham County and Essex County at low risk. Strafford and York counties are at high risk as of Thursday.

The new guidelines also drop the CDC mandate for masks to be worn on masks on buses or vans operated by public or private school systems, including early care and education/child care programs.

"School systems at their discretion may choose to require that people wear masks on buses or vans," the CDC said on its website.

CDC map of COVID-19 risk
CDC map of COVID-19 risk as of 2/24/22 using new metrics (CDC)
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Seacoast Schools Recommend but But Not Require Masks

Dover public schools announced they are dropping their guidance effective Monday when classes resume.

"The wearing of masks by students and faculty will be optional but recommended," the district said in a letter to the district.

The district is also requiring that individuals quarantined for COVID-19 with no symptoms and returning to school are required to wear a mask for days 6-10. If the student choses not to wear a mask, the individual will be quarantined for the full ten days.

Remote learning is also no longer an option in New Hampshire.

SAU 16 Superintendent David Ryan has also ended mandatory mask use, and saw it as a positive shift in the pandemic.

"The masking matrix that was adopted last summer that had been followed for this academic year is no longer being used and is now eliminated. If health officials indicate in the future that a return to masking is necessary, we will work with our health partners to develop a new set of guidelines," Ryan wrote in a statement on the district website.

The Rochester school district, which had been requiring indoor mask use based on a seven day test positivity rate, is also dropping its mandatory use.

Under both the guidelines from the state and the CDC, anyone who wants to wear a mask in school is free to do so.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNH

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