FILE.- NH Chris Sununu 11-3-2020

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu wears a protective mask Nov. 3, 2020, at a polling station in Windham, N.H.

(The Center Square) – With COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations rising, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has imposed a statewide mask mandate in an attempt to prevent further spread of the virus.

The rules, which go into effect on Friday, are similar to those imposed by other states. They require face masks or coverings be worn at all times indoors and outdoors where a person can't maintain a distance of at least six feet. Children younger than 5 years old and people with disabilities and medical conditions would be exempt from the rules.

"This is not a decision that came lightly, and many factors were taken into consideration with regards to the data, the impact, and the effects on our citizens," Sununu told reporters during his weekly briefing Thursday. "In looking at the data, it is clear that a statewide mask mandate is in the best interest of our citizens."

New Hampshire was among a handful of states that have been reluctant to impose a mask mandate, even as public health groups have pressured him to do so.

Sununu has brushed off suggestions that his administration hasn't taken the issue of personal precautions seriously during the pandemic.

“Through this crisis, the state has remained consistent in urging folks to wear masks,” Sununu wrote. "We have said all along that a mask mandate was always on the table, and that we should let data drive our decisions. They work, they help prevent the spread of COVID, and people should wear them."

To date, the Granite State has reported 15,749 COVID-19 cases and 504 deaths, according to the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services,

Masks and homemade face coverings act as a barrier for respiratory droplets that can be propelled into the air when an infected person coughs, shouts or sneezes.

Medical experts say face coverings are among the most effective personal protective measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Dr. Howard Koh, a professor at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School for Public Health and former U.S. Health and Human Services Department official, has pushed for a nationwide mask requirement. He said face coverings are crucial to preventing COVID-19 infections until vaccines that are currently being become available for use.

"We should have had a national requirement long ago," Koh said. "It’s the most effective, universal way to save lives and prevent the further spread of the virus."

President-elect Joe Biden said he plans a national mask requirement when he takes over the White House in two months, but some legal experts have suggested that could be challenged.

While President Donald Trump has been reluctant to take such a step, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield has said the country could get the spread of the virus "under control" within a matter of weeks if everyone wore face coverings.

Nationally, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are reaching record highs, which has prompted leaders in a number of states to reimpose mask wearing requirements that had previously been eased as part of reopening plans.

The mask requirements have created disputes between officials who want to require face coverings and those, mostly conservatives, who say the measures are government overreach.

Sununu acknowledged the critics in his comments Thursday, saying the mask mandate will prevent the state's health care system from being overloaded with sick people and allow businesses and schools to remain open.

"No one wants a shutdown," he said. "But as we have seen in other parts of the country, this virus is rapidly spreading and this mandate will help slow the spread and keep our economy open."