Come August, masks will be optional indoors at Hawaii public schools

The state's announcement is already getting mixed reaction in the community.
Published: Jul. 12, 2022 at 1:23 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 12, 2022 at 4:43 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Wearing masks indoors will be encouraged but not required for Hawaii public school students in the upcoming school year, state officials announced Tuesday.

The decision to do away with universal indoor masking comes as Hawaii and the nation grapple with high COVID case rates but relatively low levels of hospitalization and death.

“This is an opportunity to move forward to a new normal,” said state Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble. “The COVID landscape has changed.”

She pointed to the wide availability of vaccines for all ages and high levels of immunity in the community.

“We still want everyone to consider masking indoors,” she said, and especially when COVID community risk levels are considered medium to high by the CDC. All Hawaii counties are currently at medium to high.

Kemble also said that masks might be more strongly recommended in particular situations, such as when there’s an outbreak in a classroom.

The new school year begins Aug. 1.

Mana Antoque, an incoming sophomore, was happy to hear the announcement.

“I think that’s great news because us kids, we don’t like anything covering our faces, so that’s better for us so you can see our nice smiles,” he said.

Erica Hull, an incoming senior, agreed.

“I think it’s really important that we are start getting rid of masks because it helps when teachers aren’t covering their faces because we can talk to them and it’s less intimidating for us,” she said.

Heidi Armstrong, deputy superintendent at the state Department of Education, said universal masking last academic year allowed schools to cut down on absences after a lengthy spate of remote learning.

But she added that the DOE “welcomes the updated guidance to make masking optional in schools.”

She said further messaging for parents will be posted online in the coming weeks.

The Health Department also did away with its quarantine guidance for those who have been exposed to COVID in school. Isolation is still recommended for those who have been exposed to COVID by a household member.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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