Gov. Chris Sununu doubled down on his prediction for a big summer and said that "virtually all" of the his coronavirus restrictions will be lifted "way before Memorial Day."

During the Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth's virtual State of the State on Wednesday Sununu was extremely optimistic that the mandates and restrictions will be lifted soon very soon including the mask mandate. He said that universal guidelines would become "universal best practices" which will allow the flexibility to continue social distance practices but it won't be mandated by the government.

He understands that lifting the restrictions puts a new burden on municipalities, business and retail to enforce their own mask mandate without the backing of a government order although the state will still encourage mask wearing

"That is their choice. That's part of that Live Free or Die thing. We are in the exception. This is not the norm. As we get out of COVID as we get folks vaccinated we're getting out of the regulations and we're doing it really, really fast. People need to be prepared really quickly that this stuff is going to start going away," Sununu said.

23% of the state's population, or 311,821 individuals are fully vaccinated, according to the state COVID-19 dashboard.  The average number of positive cases per day is 440 between April 8 and April 14, a 12% increase over the past week, according to the dashboard. Stafford County has the highest number of cases.

When asked by Chamber president Valerie Rochon what metrics he was looking at to lift his orders the governor said they're the same as they've been for the past year: fatalities and hospitalizations which are both down, and the addition of vaccine distribution.

"We've been able to stay right on track with (vaccines) aggressively which allows folks who want a vaccine, want to protect themselves to do so and those who don't don't," Sununu said, adding that the state will not mandate vaccinations.

The governor said with the COVID-19 vaccine being widely available the vulnerable older population of age 60 and up is protected meaning the death rate and the run on hospitals is controlled.

"We've controlled the death rate which is what this was all about in the first place, we controlled the overrun of our hospitalizations. That's what every regulation was about in the first place. Once you manage that, and we've done that better than almost anybody, we can open up, get rid of the mask mandate and get rid of the regulation,"  Sununu said.

"If not now then when? If you've vaccinated everyone in the vulnerable population that wants a vaccine but you don't get rid of your restrictions then when are you going to get rid of your restrictions," Sununu said.

Sununu said with the numbers coming down it's cause for celebration and a  gradual return to pre-pandemic normal.

"We're gonna celebrate that success and take that win and get back to what normal is and really be able to live in 2021. We're gonna party like it was 2019," the governor said.

Sununu said he's had to make decisions no governor has ever had to make and it was not an enjoyable experience for him or his family.

"I'm not having a pity party. Don't have any pity for me but it has been very very tough. The people of this state have responded phenomenally," Sununu said.

Sununu warned that COVID-19 is not going away and said numbers will rise and fall all summer. He predicted there will be another surge in November.

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

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