By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Gov. Chris Sununu’s Emergency Order #52 says people older than 65 are “strongly advised” to stay home even as the stay-at-home order is relaxed, and if they must go out to wear a face covering, but it makes no mention of face coverings for those under 65 and healthy.
Some of the emergency order released Monday deals with the detailed guidances for businesses that are continuing to reopen, but two sections caught public health expert Rich DiPentima’s attention, those dealing with the differences in the orders for older than 65 with underlying health conditions and under 65 and healthy regarding face coverings.
“This is absolute nonsense,” DiPentima said. “Why tell those over age 65 to wear a mask that does not protect them from others when they go out, while for all those under age 65 no masks are recommended?”
DiPentima worked in public health for Manchester and served as assistant director of public health for the state before retiring. He still does consulting work.
He said infected people under age 65 who are not wearing a mask can spread it to those over and under age 65 even if the other person is wearing a mask.
“If we want to protect those over 65 with health conditions, and everyone else, masks should be worn by all in public indoor places. It appears that the governor and the State do not understand the science behind wearing a mask. This order makes no public health sense,” DiPentima said.
Sununu said again at Tuesday’s news conference that there will be no mandatory mask order, that there will be no “mask police” in the state, but he still encouraged wearing them. He otherwise didn’t comment on concerns about the emergency order despite requests to his spokesman Ben Vihstadt.
DiPentima believes there will likely be a major spike in infections if masks are not worn indoors as the businesses reopen.
“Emergency Order #52: An order regarding public health guidance for business operations and advising Granite Staters that they are safer at home.”
The young and healthy can do just about anything they want as long as they maintain social distancing. If you are younger than 65, the state says the reasons to leave home include: getting fresh air and exercise, recreation with social distancing, going to the grocery store, pharmacy, laundromat, visiting a relative or attending a social gathering, getting medical care or going to work.
“It doesn’t make sense to tell older people who must go out they should wear a face mask, but under 65 not. The mask is not going to protect them,” DiPentima said.
The order states: “New Hampshire citizens who are over the age of 65 and who have underlying health conditions that place them at high risk for COVID-19 are strongly advised to stay in their homes or places of residence as much as possible. Such individuals are strongly advised to leave home only for essential needs and purposes listed in sections a to I of Pargaraph 3 of this Order, and when leaving home for such purposes are strongly advised to wear a face covering while in public and to strictly practice appropriate social distancing consistent with state and national public health guidelines.”
The order for under age 65 states: “New Hampshire citizens who are under the age of 65 and who have no other underlying health conditions that would put them at high risk of COVID-19 are advised to practice appropriate social distancing … and to limit out of home trips…”
DiPentima said states like Florida, Texas and Arizona are seeing spikes in COVID-19 infections weeks after they began to reopen their economies and New Hampshire is likely to experience spikes without a mandatory mask order.
“Now is the time we really need a universal mask order for all indoor situations to get this under control,” DiPentima said.
He worries that people are already relaxing their indoor use of face masks.
“They are getting contradictory messages from the government,” DiPentima said.
He said watching the House live stream its recent session he noticed several House members not covering their noses with their masks.
“Why bother?” DiPentima said.
Emergency Order #52: An order regarding public health guidance for business operations and advising Granite Staters that they are safer at home
Exhibit A to Emergency Order #52: Universal Guidelines for all New Hampshire Employers and Employees
Exhibit B to Emergency Order #52: Industry Specific Guidelines for Businesses, Organizations, and Sectors Operating Pursuant to Paragraph 2 of Emergency Order #52