Hawaii plans to drop the nation’s last remaining statewide indoor mask mandate later this month, Gov. David Ige (D) announced Tuesday, as Covid-19 infections have plunged since January—but Ige cautioned Hawaii is ready to institute a new mandate if infection rates surge again.
The state’s current mandate, which requires masking indoors at businesses or work, is set to end on March 25 at 11:59 p.m. Hawaii time, when the state’s current emergency proclamation is scheduled to expire, Ige said.
Hawaii’s seven-day average new Covid case rate has dropped almost 97% since late January, when a surge caused by the coronavirus’ omicron variant was at its zenith, a trend Ige attributed to Hawaiian’s “serious” attitude toward the mask mandate.
Hawaii was the last U.S. state to announce it would drop its indoor mask mandate, which Ige cast as proof of Hawaiians’ willingness to make personal sacrifices to benefit the community.
The state plans to drop its quarantine requirements for people exposed to possible Covid-19 infections in school settings, but it will continue to recommend indoor masking at schools, Hawaii Department of Health epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said.
The Hawaii Department of Health will also recommend indoor masking in crowded settings or when spending time around unvaccinated people, said department director Dr. Elizabeth Char.
Ige said Hawaii would swiftly bring back a mask mandate if Covid cases were to surge again with the emergence of a new variant.
Ige’s claim that Hawaii is now safe enough for most people to unmask indoors is supported by favorable vaccination and case data. About 84% of people in Hawaii have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, compared to 76.6% for the U.S. as a whole. Additionally, 76.6% of people in Hawaii are fully vaccinated, compared to 65.1% for the U.S. as a whole. Hawaii reported 84.8 new Covid cases per 100,000 people over the seven-day period ending Tuesday, compared to 85.3 new cases per 100,000 for the U.S. as a whole, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. Last week, prior to Ige’s announcement, Hawaii’s four counties announced they would drop some Covid rules governing public gatherings or requiring vaccination proof to enter businesses. Like Hawaii, the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico Monday announced it would drop its indoor mask mandate.
“We have lost too many, and too many of our residents have suffered from the impacts of this pandemic,” Ige said. “We must not forget this as we take the next steps in living with the pandemic that is not yet over.”
Hawaii plans to loosen some of its Covid guidelines for schools, though it still recommends students mask up indoors. A CDC study published Tuesday found that Arkansas school districts with universal masking rules had lower incidences of Covid than districts without masking rules. Students and staff in districts with masking rules were 23% less likely to catch Covid, reinforcing the usefulness of masking, especially in areas with high Covid rates, researchers said.
“Mask Holdouts: Hawaii, Puerto Rico Keep Mandates As Other States Ease Covid Restrictions” (Forbes)