Governor again urged to strengthen mask mandate as COVID-19 cases rise

Governor again urged to strengthen mask mandate as COVID-19 cases rise
On a recent afternoon, Mayor Kirk Caldwell hands out masks in Waikiki. (Source: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - House Speaker Scott Saiki urged the governor Monday to institute a clear statewide mask mandate and said a special legislative session was not needed to do so.

Gov. David Ige has resisted calls to clarify his mask mandate, included in his COVID-19 emergency proclamation, which directs people to follow the mask rules of the county they are in.

That’s even though a growing number of local leaders, including Lt. Gov. Josh Green and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, said failing to simply articulate a statewide mask mandate is creating confusion.

On Monday, Saiki also expressed concern about the lack of clarity ― and said it is doubly worrisome given the recent uptick in new COVID-19 cases on Oahu.

At a legislative briefing on COVID-19, Saiki said the governor should amend his emergency proclamation to say masks are required statewide and that counties are responsible for enforcement.

“That’s all the proclamation needs to say,” he said.

Saiki added that holding a special session to pass a mask law would be difficult because it’s unclear how long the legislation would be required.

“It really is easier for the governor to just issue a proclamation that he can easily amend if circumstances change,” Saiki said.

The other reason Gov. David Ige has suggested a special session for a mask mandate is because under his emergency proclamation, violating the mask rule is a misdemeanor.

That means violators are entitled to a jury trial.

Saiki conceded that Ige doesn’t have the authority to instead put a simple fine in place for violators.

Hawaii seen an uptick of new COVID-19 cases in recent days, an alarming trend that officials have said could quickly get out of hand if people don’t remain vigilant.

Mask wearing, they say, remains one of the strongest tools to preventing the spread of COVID-19.

According to the state Health Department about 80% of people on Oahu were seen wearing a mask correctly during a recent survey. That’s far lower than the 95% that researchers have recommended.

On Monday morning, several people at the legislative briefing also expressed concern about how many people are not wearing masks in public, despite pleas to do so.

Raymond Vera, president and CEO of Hawaii Pacific Health, said he noticed only about half of people in Waikiki over the weekend wearing masks.

Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, also said mask wearing does not appear to be widespread in Waikiki.

But he contended the majority of those not wearing masks appear to be residents.

This story will be updated.

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