New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu defended his unwillingness to implement a mask mandate as part of his strategy to deal with the COVID-19 winter surge on CBS' Face the Nation Sunday morning.

The state continues to have among the highest number of positive cases in the country with 1,146 new cases and 10,138 total active cases as of Friday, according to the state COVID-19 dashboard. Sununu has resisted calls from Democrats and the medical community to implement the mask madate.

After host Margaret Brennan referenced an earlier comment on the show by former FDA head former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb that masking is "one of the lightest lift health precautions" Sununu disagreed.

Sununu said that while wearing masks is "incredibly important" they are not going to stop spread within families and co-workers during holiday get together. The governor said that masking is one of several things that can be done to slow the spread along with social distancing and at-home testing.

Booster Bliltz at the Stratham Cooperative School 12/11/21
Booster Bliltz at the Stratham Cooperative School 12/11/21 (@DrTomSherman via Twitter)

"Still in the penalty box"

To implement a mask mandate Sununu said he would have to also declare a full state of emergency that affects everyone in the state regardless of the level of transmission in their area or their vaccination status.

"What you're really telling folks is 'thank you for making the sacrifice, getting the vaccine, getting the boosters, doing the right thing and you're still in the penalty box.' And the fact of the matter is COVID isn't going away anytime soon," Sununu said.

Brennan did not agree with Sununu and spoke over him as he continued his answer.

"Penalty box? It's not a penalty box. For people with unvaccinated family members, small children, immunocompromised it's just putting on a mask," Brennan said.

Sununu said that he doesn't want to keep putting mandates in and then lifting them.

"If I were to put a mask mandate in now, when do I undo it? COVID isn't going away for the next couple of years. We're going to have Omicron; we are going to have new variants," Sununu said.

"At the end of the day, it's about personal responsibility. Getting that vaccine, getting that booster, being smart about it, getting yourself tested early. All of these are the most important pieces of the puzzle to bending the curve and making sure we push back on COVID."

Member of the NH Air National Guard at a Booster Blitz location 12/11/21
Member of the NH Air National Guard at a Booster Blitz location 12/11/21 (@NHNationalGuard via Twitter)

Improving Booster Rate

Sununu told host Brennan that the rate of booster shots in New Hampshire was low at first but after people saw friends neighbors and co-workers become infected by the Delta variant they made the decision to take the booster.

"They're taking it a little more seriously, and we have a lot more folks going after the booster, which is hugely important in terms of not just preventing COVID, but most importantly, preventing the most severe aspects of COVID," Sununu said.

Sununu is a strong supporter of all those who are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccination to receive it along with the booster but is loathe to mandate it on a statewide level.

"It's very clear if a business or something or someone wants to put a mandate in place, that's one thing. But when the government starts mandating health choices for individuals, that doesn't that- that is a whole different ball game right there," Sununu said.

He said that Saturday's Booster Blitz administered 12,000 shots and another will take place in January.

Sununu also touted the state's recent partnership that saw 900,000 free at-home tests claimed by residents within 24 hours.

"I can tell you if folks have access to a test in their home and they can find out if they are positive or negative, it really- it takes just that one or two days that you're saving from getting your results back; it can drastically reduce the transmission.

As of Friday the number of reported positive cases appeared to have leveled off slightly for the moment Rockingham County continues to have the highest number of active cases with 1,920, according to the state COVID-19 dashboard, while Stafford County has 943.

55% of eligible New Hampshire residents have received the full COVID-19 vaccination.

Hospitals in New Hampshire continue to be stressed by the number of hospitalizations which stands at 466, still among the highest since the start of the pandemic in late winter 2020.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNH

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