Despite new CDC guidance, governor says Hawaii’s mask mandate will remain in place
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Gov. David Ige said Friday that Hawaii will not be following the new CDC guidance on masks ― and will keep its indoor mask requirement in place for now.
Hawaii stands alone in the nation in sticking with a statewide mandate.
And on Friday, with COVID cases and hospitalizations declining, the CDC also eased its masking recommendations. Previous guidance recommended masks in counties with substantial or high COVID transmission, which included the majority of the country. The new recommendations put a heavier emphasis on hospitalizations and hospital capacity than community spread and case counts.
Alan Wiltshire is the vice president of operations for SkyBox Tap House and Shorefyre Fresh Grill and Bar. He welcomed the news from the CDC.
“I took the article and posted it on all three of our restaurants’ message boards,” Wiltshire said. “The response was overwhelmingly positive.”
As of Friday, there were 103 people with COVID in Hawaii hospitals. That’s down from a peak of 473 in September, and includes people who are in the hospital for other reasons and happen to test positive.
Despite the decline, Ige said he’s not ready to drop the mask mandate.
In a statement, he said:
“Hawaii will keep the indoor mask mandate for now. We are watching disease activity across the state and globally, especially as other changes are made to current programs across the U.S. and at the county level. We will adjust accordingly.
“The CDC eliminated its mask recommendation once before but was forced to reinstate the indoor mask requirement when the Delta variant caused a spike in cases. Hawaii kept its indoor mask requirement in place during that time, protecting residents and preventing the rapid spread of the virus, resulting in the second lowest COVID fatality rate in the country.”
The state House Minority Leader, Rep. Val Okimoto, wrote the governor, urging him to drop the mandate.
“We don’t need this mask mandate any more. The people are tried of it,” said Okimoto.
“The administration has been talking about following the science, following the guidelines. So this really, based on the CDC’s website, that is the science behind it,” she added.
Some parents, especially, have also been frustrated that their children still have to be masked in school while adults are often maskless in large gatherings elsewhere.
Several residents HNN spoke to Friday said they’d stick with masks, even if the mandate drops.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing,” said shopper Susan Wilson, who is a nurse. “I think we should continue to exercise, wearing masks. I’m not gonna give it up.”
Shopper Mo Sato agreed. “I think as conditions improved, I think at some point it should be dropped. But right now I still feel more comfortable with the mask on.”
Shopper Holly Calantoc said she lost a family member to COVID and so she is very cautious.
“We will be one of the last people wearing the masks,” Calantoc said.
Others are ready to unmask as long as people are spread out.
“It’d be lovely. But I am still kind of cautious,” said shopper Barbara Summa. “If it’s a crowded store, a crowded area, I’ll wear the mask.”
While the CDC says Hawaii’s hospitalizations are low enough to drop mask rules for now, even some scientists support erring on the side of caution.
Epidemiologist DeWolfe Miller agrees that it’s better to be safe than sorry.
“I want to be on the conservative end and do everything I can to get way past ‘safety’ before I feel safe and safe for everybody else,” he said.
The state Department of Health said they’re also evaluating the situation.
“As things stand today, we still do have a mask mandate in place, and we support that mask mandate,” said DOH spokesperson Brooks Baehr. “There are several reasons why Hawaii has the second-lowest COVID-19 death rate in the country and the mask mandate is one of those reasons.”
But at Shorefyre and Skybox Taphouse, the end of the mandate can’t come soon enough.
“Imagine cooking over a hot grill at 400 degrees, and you have to wear a mask the whole time,” said Wiltshire. “I mean, our cooks are really suffering back there.”
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