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Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist, speaks last July in Concord while Gov. Chris Sununu stands behind him. Chan and Sununu are putting together new COVID-19 guidelines. (PAULA TRACY PHOTO)

CONCORD — In the state's last regularly scheduled COVID-19 pandemic press briefing Thursday, Gov. Chris Sununu and state health officials announced relaxed mask guidelines as cases continued to fall in New Hampshire.

Dr. Benjamin Chan, the state epidemiologist, said the state is now recommending that asymptomatic people — not just fully vaccinated people — can go without facemasks in most indoor and outdoor locations.

Chan said anyone who is immunocompromised should continue to wear a mask when out in public and around other people, as should anyone who wants to make sure they're as protected as possible for any reason.

He noted there are also places where masks are still required. Businesses can require mask use, and places like health care facilities and public transportation are under federal mandates for mask use.

Chan said masks are also still recommended in high-risk locations, such as crowded indoor spaces.

COVID-19 cases in New Hampshire are continuing to decline, Chan said. There are 265 known active cases in the state, and 17 people are hospitalized. Two new deaths were reported Thursday, both associated with long-term care facilities, but Chan said the state is averaging less than one COVID-related death per day.

Chan said the best protection against COVID-19 is getting vaccinated. More than half of Granite Staters are fully vaccinated, said Dr. Beth Daly, chief of the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control, and outreach is continuing to get more people vaccinated.

Daly said the state isn't planning to order any more vaccines from the federal government next week because it still has enough supplies to meet demand.

Daly said the state isn't planning to order any more vaccines from the federal government next week because it still has enough supplies to meet demand.

Daly noted that the state will no longer require people to quarantine if they're exposed to COVID-19 outside the home. If someone inside the home has COVID-19, other members of the household should still quarantine.

The Department of Health and Human Services also will no longer conduct contact tracing for exposures in community settings, Daly said. Suspected outbreaks will still be investigated.

Sununu and health officials said the state is continuing to track potentially dangerous variants, such as the delta variant, which is driving infections in India and the United Kingdom. Sununu said the state is taking the delta variant and other variants seriously and will be prepared to deal with them if they become a problem in New Hampshire.

"The good news is, we have a lot of tools in the toolbox," Sununu said. "I pray we never get to the point of shutting things down again."

Chan noted that research has indicated that fully vaccinated people are protected against delta and other variants, but people who have only received one dose of a two-dose vaccine aren't protected nearly as well.

— WMUR, Channel 9

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