With nearly half of the state vaccinated, governor drops mask mandate outdoors

Updated: May. 26, 2021 at 5:51 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In what was described as a big step toward “normalcy,” the governor on Tuesday announced masks are no longer required outdoors, ocean sports would again be allowed, and several counties are poised to ease restrictions on businesses and gatherings.

The changes come as Hawaii pushes more people to get vaccinated ― even eyeing an incentive program in a bid to get more shots in arms ― and as tourism continues to make a speedy recovery.

“Getting vaccinated is the best way to get to normal ... so that we can relax the restrictions,” said Gov. David Ige, in a news conference.

Read more: New tiers approved for Kauai, but reaching them depends on vaccination rates

He added the amended outdoor mask rules are effective immediately and apply to everyone, regardless of vaccination status. Indoors, masks are still required ― also across the board.

“Outdoor activities are very, very safe,” said Dr. Libby Char, state Health Department director. “When we are outdoors, we will not need to wear a mask. When we are indoors, we will still need to wear a mask.”

She added that while masks aren’t required outdoors, wearing one in a group outdoors is recommended. She also noted that restrictions on gathering size remain in place.

On Oahu, social gatherings are limited to 10 or fewer people.

While some are excited about the lifted mask mandate.

“I feel like he definitely needed to follow suit with the other governors and on the mainland, I feel more so since we can do more outdoor things we can be outside more,” said Ryan Look of Hawaii Kai.

Others tell Hawaii News Now they are still going to take extra precautions.

“That’s a tricky one, but I hope people just use your best judgment, being that we have the vaccinations and case numbers are a lot lower,” said Michael Cummings of Pearl City.

“I’ve had a mask on for over a year now, I don’t care,” said Lindsay Rabe who was eating at a restaurant in Waikiki. “You know, if I can keep a mask on, I keep myself and my family and my ohana safe, that’s what I want to do.”

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said there are planned amendments to the island’s tiered reopening system, including gathering size limitations, that would take into account the state’s vaccination rate.

As of Tuesday, 49% of Hawaii residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Any changes to the tiered system would need to be approved by the governor, and Ige said he has not yet seen a proposal.

Meanwhile, Hawaii Island and Maui are also considering changes to gathering size restrictions.

And on Kauai, a new tier system has been approved that considers vaccination rates.

While masks aren’t going away, Tuesday’s change is a significant one ― especially for a state that’s been more conservative than the rest of the nation when it comes to lifting emergency restrictions.

“We are moving into other stages of normalcy that we’ve all waited for,” said Maui Mayor Mike Victorino, at the news conference.

Also Tuesday, Ige said restrictions on outdoor water sports would be lifted June 1, once again allowing surfing competitions, regattas and other water sporting events.

The state’s new mask modifications move Hawaii closer to the CDC’s guidance on masks.

Earlier this month, the CDC said vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outdoors or indoors, except on public transportation and in other limited circumstances.

In the immediate wake of that guidance, Ige opted not to immediately relax Hawaii’s mask mandate, saying the state needed to stay the course until more people were vaccinated.

The decision put him in opposition to national trends and his own lieutenant governor, who said lifting the mandate for vaccinated people made sense.

Hawaii’s mask mandate previously required you to wear a mask in most instances indoors and outdoors if you’ were within 6 feet of people.

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