By KIM JARRETT
THE CENTER SQUARE ASSOCIATE EDITOR
(The Center Square) — Hawaii’s indoor mask mandate will remain in place at least until March 25, Gov. David Ige said Tuesday at a news conference.
The state is ending its Safe Travels program on that date. The program required all visitors to the state to be fully vaccinated or show a negative COVID-19 test in order to avoid a mandatory quarantine.
But Gov. Ige did not guarantee that the indoor mask mandate would end on March 25.
“As you may be aware the state of Hawaii is the only statewide public school system, and so we are working with the public schools about mask requirements and COVID protocols in the public schools,” he said. “We’re the only state that runs the jails, and we’re the only state that manages all of the hospitals in the counties as well so our situation in Hawaii is more complex than other areas. And certainly we will be looking at these issues about mask requirements.”
Hawaii is the only U.S. state that still has an indoor mandate. Last week the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced new guidelines, saying masks are no longer necessary unless someone lives in an area where hospitals are struggling to keep up, adding that that description means about 70% of Americans can go maskless.
Hawaii’s four counties remain in the low- to medium-risk range, based on the CDC’s guidelines. More than 76% percent of Hawaii’s residents are fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health.
House Minority Whip Val Okimoto asked Gov. Ige in a recent letter to rescind the state’s mask mandate in light of the new guidelines.
“These mandated restrictions have cost a heavy toll on our economy, our communities and the mental well-being of our people and our children,” Rep. Okimoto wrote in her letter. “We no longer need to pay that toll.”
Gov. Ige said Tuesday he believes the restrictions, including the Safe Travels program, have saved lives. More than 11.3 million passengers were screened, he said.
The mayors of Hawaii’s four counties have either lifted their state of emergency or set an expiration date. But all of them have said residents must still follow the statewide indoor mask mandates.
The pandemic is not over but things are improving, Gov. Ige said.
“Our hospitals are getting better and better,” he said. “The case counts in hospitals are reducing every day.”