For months, Democratic gubernatorial candidates Dan Feltes and Andru Volinsky have criticized Gov. Chris Sununu for not issuing an emergency order mandating that people wear face masks.
As new cases have declined, the Democratic primary rivals have continued to press for a mandate, with Volinsky even hinting at masses of infected outsiders streaming over the border and spreading the virus in New Hampshire.
“As Gov. Chris Sununu has chosen to open our malls, with hordes of Massachusetts shoppers coming from areas of concentrated contagion, we need to be even more careful to limit the spread of the virus. It is the cost of doing business. No shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service,” Volinsky wrote in May.
Yet state data tracking the dates people contracted the illness show a steady decline in new COVID-19 cases since early May, when shopping malls reopened. Though restaurants reopened for indoor dining a month later, new confirmed cases continued to fall.
May’s daily high was 73 new cases, hit on May 12.
June’s high was just under half that number, 36 new cases, hit on June 1 and June 12.
July’s high was 37, hit on July 22.
Since July 1, New Hampshire has had only a handful of days with 30 or more confirmed new cases, and in August cases have continued to decline overall. (August numbers could later be revised pending test results.)
As of August 20th, New Hampshire had a total of 255 confirmed, active COVID-19 cases and 11 hospitalizations.
Out of a population of 1.36 million people, 11 — or .0008% — are hospitalized with COVID-19 and 255 — or .02% — are confirmed to have the disease.
Not a single municipality in the state has even 30 confirmed cases. Only five have confirmed, active cases in the double digits: Manchester has 29, Nashua 17, Salem 11, Bedford 10, and Derry 10.
Of New Hampshire’s 234 municipalities, 95 (40%) have zero active cases, and 74 (32%) have between one and five active cases.
Without a statewide mask mandate, and with only eight municipalities having passed their own mandates, 72% of New Hampshire’s towns and cities have fewer than five active COVID-19 cases, and only five municipalities (2%) have more than nine active cases.
It’s possible that the warm weather has played a role. Yet New Hampshire has not reported a single outbreak at day care centers, restaurants or shopping malls, three indoor businesses that many people worried would facilitate rapid virus spread.
In New Hampshire, clusters have been the biggest health threats. The state has identified clusters as the largest source of infections (36%), hospitalizations (35.6%) and deaths (82.7%). Gov. Sununu’s order last week for mandatory mask use at planned events of 100 or more people was intended to reduce these clusters.
The case for an individual mask mandate in general, however, is much harder to make based on the state’s numbers.
Masks have been shown by multiple studies to be effective in slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy has recommended voluntary mask wearing along with a state public relations campaign to encourage it.
But a statewide mask mandate is clearly unnecessary to achieve the state’s goal of maintaining enough hospital bed capacity to handle a surge in COVID-19 patients.
New Hampshire has more than 300 Intensive Care Unit beds (including surge capacity), and only 11 actively infected patients.
As the state’s economy has slowly reopened, infections, hospitalizations and deaths have fallen. State-imposed business restrictions may have played a role, along with businesses’ own rules and a general, voluntary acceptance of mask wearing as a social norm.
What played no role was an emergency order compelling citizens to wear masks. It seems strange that the demand for a mandate doesn’t fade along with the state’s dwindling infection and death rates.