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

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

No state will require masks indoors after 11:59 p.m. on March 25. Hawaii is the latest to drop the pandemic safety measure, with indoor mask mandates in Oregon and Washington state expiring at 11:59 p.m. Friday.

Ige said the number of COVID-19 cases in Hawaii and hospitalizations are decreasing. The seven-day average of new cases is around 140, he said, while a week ago it was over 300. There were 48 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday. He said it was the first time the number had been below 50 since about last summer.

He said he expects the downward trends to continue.

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

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

“I believe we are the last community to release the mask mandate because we care about each other and we care about our community and we are all willing to sacrifice ourselves to keep each other healthy and safe,” did he declare.

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Hawaii health officials still recommend wearing masks indoors in schools, hospitals, prisons and other “congregate living settings.”

Sen. Kurt Fevella, the only Republican in the state Senate, said he gives the governor credit for not lifting the mandate sooner, even though he knows many of his constituents are ready to withdraw their mask.

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

He said that at the end of the term, 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’ll 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. Starting March 26, those arriving from other places in the United States will no longer have to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to avoid being sequestered for five days.

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

Pamela Aquino, a resident of Bronx, New York, said her summer vacation in Hawaii was unhindered by wearing a mask indoors.

“It was so strict there. Almost everywhere we went we had to wear masks,” she said. “It makes sense to them. It’s an island. I totally get it. You don’t have a lot of hospitals.”

Kauai resident Sheila Herr said she will continue to wear a mask indoors around people, like at the grocery store, even though it’s not required.

“The majority of my friends from 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 an abundance of caution. Others because they are at risk,” she said. “So please encourage those who feel more comfortable wearing masks to continue to do so.”

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, a Big Island emergency physician, said he recommended Monday that the governor and the health department lift the mandate by March 25.

“The governor and the health director are very conservative and that has benefited us because we have the lowest case rate and the second lowest death rate in the country,” Green said.

But he said he was now worried about the “collateral” effects of pandemic restrictions such as depression and alcohol abuse.

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

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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