As the state of New Hampshire ended its recommendation to wear masks while indoors at public places, the Department of Education said schools should no longer require masks to be worn.

During Wednesday's COVID-19 briefing, state epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said that it is up to individuals to make their own decisions in most situations as the COVID-19 winter surge continues to decrease.

The number of hospitalizations fell to 95 down from a peak of 400 in January and 35 deaths, according to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. There are 1,598 active cases. The peak was over 3,000 after the Christmas holidays.

"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," Chan said.

Gov. Chris Sununu said that another factor is the availability of the COVID-19 vaccination, booster shots, and tests.

"We are moving forward with the understanding that COVID might be here forever. We're not 100% sure, but we do have the tools to adequately manage moving forward recognizing that mandates and restrictions can often have significant drawbacks," Sununu said.

Dover Public School students receive the COVID-19 vaccination
Dover Public School students receive the COVID-19 vaccination (Dover Public Schools)
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School Mask Mandates Should End

The governor also urged school districts that still have mask mandates in place to lift them by the time classes resume after upcoming February school vacation week.

However, the state Department of Education issued stern new 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.

Private businesses and municipalities are free to implement them on their own.

Federal guidelines for mask use such as on public transportation and healthcare facilities are still in effect.

When asked if it was safe for the legislature to meet again in the Representatives Hall at the State House, Chan said that the best way for that to happen would be by taking the COVID-19 vaccination.

"There's no one preventive strategy that's going to stop the spread of COVID. We will continue to promote the use of layered prevention strategies to minimize the risk, but ultimately there's always going to be some risk from COVID out there," Chan said.

Sununu delivered his State of the State address at the Doubletree Hotel in Manchester.

Chan said that the BA-2 sub-variant of Omicron is only present in about 3% of cases in the United States and .05% in New Hampshire, and is still being studied.

"There's some very limited early evidence that maybe the BA-2 sub-variant of Omicron may be more infectious or transmissible than the parent strain of the Omicron variant, but that's obviously still being studied," Chan said.

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

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