Gov. Chris Sununu applauds the Executive Council after swearing them in during his inauguration ceremony at the Executive Council Chamber at the State House in Concord, N.H., on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. Credit: David Lane / The Union Leader via AP

CONCORD, N.H. — New Hampshire will lift its mask mandate Friday, though individual communities and businesses will be allowed to continue the requirement, Gov. Chris Sununu said Thursday.

New Hampshire was the last state in New England to adopt a statewide mask mandate in November and with Friday’s change, will be the first to lift it. In addition to dropping the mask requirement, the state also will eliminate remaining restrictions on businesses and replace industry-specific rules with universal safety recommendations on May 7, Sununu said.

While infections have risen throughout the spring, Sununu credited the state’s success in vaccinations for keeping deaths low and hospitalizations at a manageable level. More than 70 percent of residents age 16 and older have either been vaccinated or have scheduled appointments, said Beth Daly, chief of the state Bureau of Infectious Disease Control.

“Everyone is really doing their part to stare down COVID,” said Sununu. “The pandemic is not over, and we’re not declaring victory by any means on any of this, but our successes to date have created opportunity.”

Towns, cities and schools can impose their own mask mandates, he said, as can individual state agencies, departments and other organizations.

“We have truly been in this together since March of 2020, we’ll continue to move forward together in a measured, data-driven way,” he said. “Let’s keep getting our vaccinations and doing what we need to do to keep our communities safe. Together, New Hampshire is definitely on track for a very successful summer and beyond.”

Sen. Tom Sherman, D-Rye, urged Sununu to reconsider his decision, which he called an “unnecessary and potentially devastating deviation in our public health policy.”

“Our state is averaging more new cases each day and more hospitalizations than when the mask mandate first went into effect. As a doctor, I am shocked that in spite of these facts the Governor is now lifting this critical protection against the spread of COVID 19,” he said.

Story by Holly Ramer.