COVID-19: Hawaii to lift last statewide indoor mask mandate by March 26

HONOLULU — The last statewide mask mandate in the United States will be lifted by March 26, Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced Tuesday.

Masks will not be required indoors in any state after March 25 at 11:59 p.m. Hawaii is the latest country to drop the pandemic safety measure, with indoor mask mandates in Oregon and Washington state expiring at 11:59 p.m. Friday.

Ige said Hawaii’s COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations are declining. The seven-day average of new cases is about 140, he said, down from more than 300 a week ago. On Tuesday, 48 patients with COVID-19 were hospitalized. He said this is the first time the number has been below 50 since around last summer.

He expects the downtrend to continue.

Since April 2020, the state of Hawaii has required face masks. At first it was both indoors and outdoors.

Ige said Hawaii’s culture of caring for others, particularly kupuna, or the elderly in Hawaiian, helped the state tolerate the mask rule for so long.

“I believe that we are the last community to give up the mask mandate because we care about each other and we care about our community and we are all willing to make sacrifices to keep each other healthy and safe,” he said.

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Hawaii health officials still recommend wearing masks in schools, hospitals, prisons and other “gathering” environments.

Sen. Kurt Fevella, the only Republican in the state Senate, said he gives credit to the governor for not rescinding the mandate sooner, despite knowing many of his constituents are willing to remove their masks.

“People would come up to me and tell me to take the diaper off my face,” Fevella said. “People who are rude and disrespectful… don’t help anyone.”
When people make comments like this, he explains that he wears a mask to protect his 83-year-old father, who lives with him.

He said when the mandate ends, he and his family members will continue to wear masks depending on the circumstances.

“If we don’t know the crowd we’re with, we wear the mask,” he said.

The end of the mask mandate coincides with when Hawaii plans to lift its COVID-19 quarantine requirement for travelers. Beginning March 26, those arriving from other locations in the US will not be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to avoid being confiscated for five days.

Ige said those rules helped Hawaii have one of the lowest rates of COVID-19 in the country.

Pamela Aquino of the Bronx, New York, said her summer vacation in Hawaii wasn’t hampered by wearing a mask indoors.

“It was so strict there. Pretty much everywhere we went we had to wear masks,” she said. “It makes sense to her. It’s an island. I totally understand. They don’t have many hospitals.”

Kauai resident Sheila Herr said she will continue to wear a mask when around people, like at the grocery store, although it’s not mandatory.

“The majority of my friends on Kauai agree that we should wear masks to protect each other,” she said.

State epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said many people will keep masks on.

“Some will do it out of caution. Others because they are vulnerable,” she said. “So please encourage those who feel more comfortable wearing masks to continue to do so.”

Lt. gov. Josh Green, an emergency medical technician on the Big Island, said he recommended Monday that the governor and the health department lift the mandate on or before March 25.

“The governor and the director of health are very conservative and it’s served us well because we have the lowest case rate and the second-lowest death rate in the country,” Green said.

But he said he now worries about the “side effects” of pandemic restrictions, such as depression and alcohol abuse.

“It’s important that we start moving towards normality because there are other considerations like people’s mental health,” he said.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. COVID-19: Hawaii to lift last statewide indoor mask mandate by March 26

Dais Johnston

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