The city of Portsmouth has implemented a mask mandate effective immediately for all indoor areas and places of employment. Dover parents have been given notice about possible last-minute cancellations of in-person learning due to the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

While Gov. Chris Sununu declined to re-implement a statewide mask mandate, municipalities, businesses, and schools can do so on their own.

The Portsmouth mandate was ordered by City Manager Karen Conrad on Friday at the request of the city's health officer. It requires everyone over the age of 5 to mask up until further notice. Masks on children under the age of 5 are at the discretion of parents.

"Given the current metrics relative to percent positivity and hospitalization utilization due to COVID, the Health Officer has determined that in order to protect the public health, proper face coverings must be used in all publicly accessible indoor areas and places of employment," Conrad said in a statement.

Cloth masks and surgical masks are both acceptable under the mandate.

Exceptions to the Directive

Conrad said the order does not apply to private homes or residential units, patrons in indoor swimming pools, music students, vaccinated performers in public venues, gymnasiums that have instituted other mitigation measures such as vaccination requirements, physical distancing or enhanced ventilation systems, and athletes actively participating in athletic arenas.

The directive also does not apply to public or private schools.

Under the directive, an individual with "a medical or developmental condition to whom the wearing of a face covering would pose a threat to their health or safety including anxiety" does not have to wear a face covering. Documentation to verify their reason does not have to be provided.

The city had already implemented an indoor mask mandate for city facilities.

Exeter,  UNH, Amesbury and Newburyport have all implemented mask mandates on the Seacoast. Keene, Nashua and Manchester also have mandates in place.

Dover High School
Dover High School (Kimberley Haas, Townsquare Media)
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A Challenging 4 to 6 weeks

Dover school superintendent William Harbron warned parents that the next 4-6 weeks will be challenging as the spread of COVID-19 poses a risk for potential staffing shortages in the district.

"It remains the district's top priority to continue with in-person learning . Unfortunately though, there might be a day when the school might not have the adequate number of teachers to provide instruction and/or the staff to provide adequate supervision for student safety," Harbron said in a statement to the district. "In the event this occurs, we want parents/guardians to be prepared with a backup plan if a school or schools need to be closed for these reasons."

Potential staffing shortages also apply to bus drivers.

Harbron said the district would try to notify affected students as soon as possible, but there could be times when a staffing issue isn't known until the early morning.

The state currently has 14,937 active COVID-19 cases as of Thursday, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. The number of hospitalizations dropped down to 359 as of Thursday.

Strafford County has the fourth highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state, with 965 total positive cases. Excluding Nashua and Manchester, Portsmouth currently has the highest number of cases in the state at 274, followed by Dover at 269.

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

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