Ige issues mask mandate, responding to concerns his previous order was unclear

Updated: Nov. 17, 2020 at 5:44 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a bid to cut down on confusion about when masks are required, the governor on Monday issued a single statewide mask mandate for the islands.

The order, included in his newest emergency proclamation, says everyone in Hawaii “shall wear a face covering over their nose and mouth when in public."

Businesses, the order said, “shall refuse admission” to anyone who isn’t following the rules.

Ige said that was collectively decided on by policymakers and businesses.

“We’ve had requests from both sides of this. The businesses don’t really want to be responsible for enforcing, and yet they want me to make it clear that anyone would be required to wear a mask before entering the property,” Gov. Ige said Monday.

“I am making it clear that everyone who goes to any business is required to wear a mask, and that way the businesses can say that it’s really because I’ve ordered it.”

Tina Yamaki, president of Retails Merchants of Hawaii supports the statewide mandate, but said businesses need help with enforcement.

“Yes, we do have the right to refuse but what happens is sometimes these customers fight back and they get physical," said Yamaki. "And you know for us, we don’t want that to happen with our employees so what do you do then?”

There are exemptions to the order, including for young children, first responders and those with medical conditions. And if you are in public or at work, you don’t need to wear a mask if you’re 6 feet away from others.

[To read the full emergency proclamation, click here.]

Ige’s previous’s emergency order directed people to follow the mask rules of the county they’re in.

Health and tourism officials, and even the lieutenant governor and Honolulu’s mayor, have said that was creating confusion ― especially as Hawaii welcomed trans-Pacific visitors.

Some residents who support the statewide mandate, also felt the previous one sparked confusion.

“I think it was kind of too loose, too vague," said Don Tsuha of Kaneohe.

“There’s so much confusion with what you can and cannot do,” said Winston Wong of Kaimuki.

“Different guidance kept coming out and after awhile I don’t know what to listen to,” said Leona Tafuna of Kaaawa.

They called for a single mandate that would put all counties in line and asked for enforcement.

Violators of the mask mandate will face a misdemeanor charge with penalties of up to a year in jail and fines of up to $5,000. Many have called for that to be changed to a simple fine so violations would not clog the courts system.

“I’ve said before, treating it like a traffic ticket ― a $100 fine, $150 fine, fill out the form, mail it in ― is the way I’d like to go,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said.

Public Defender James Tabe agrees with the mayor.

“The consequences to have a criminal offense on a person’s record is very much different than having a violation of a seatbelt or a jaywalking ticket," said Tabe.

But according to the governor, his power under emergency orders, are limited by the Hawaii Revised Statutes.

“The only penalty that is allowable in that emergency situation, is that … the penalty is a misdemeanor that is punishable by one year in prison, or a fine of up to $5,000. And that’s the only option that is in current law.”

But others favor stiffer penalties.

“I’m hoping there will be more teeth put into it to make it a more serious violation,” said John De Fries, CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Ige said the penalty can be changed, but it would require a special session of the state Legislature -- something he does not support.

According to the state Health Department, Hawaii has one of the highest mask wearing rates in the nation ― at about 86%.

But that’s lower than the 95% that researchers consider “universal” mask wearing. Universal mask wearing is associated with a far lower rate of COVID-19 transmission even when restrictions are eased.

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