Governor David Ige leaves the Hawaii masks guidelines unchanged regardless of the change by the CDC

When President Joe Biden and federal health officials okayed vaccinated Americans to go maskless in most situations and ditch social distancing in what they described as a turning point in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, Governor David Ige signaled that the time was such Relaxing restrictions wasn’t the right thing to do in Hawaii.

The director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing at the White House Thursday that “anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physically distancing themselves.”

“We have all longed for that moment when we can return to a sense of normalcy,” she said.

But within hours, Ige was holding his own press conference telling reporters that Hawaii’s masking mandate would continue for the time being and that a better time to stop wearing masks could be when the state reaches herd immunity when enough population is available the virus is protected to largely prevent its spread. This point isn’t exactly known, but scientists have pegged it at over 70% in the past few weeks.

“We know that it can be fine and healthy and safe for our fully vaccinated people to be out and about without a mask,” said Ige. “But for the benefit of our entire community, it is clearly better that we continue to wear masks until we have reached the point where 70-80% of our community is fully vaccinated.”

Ige stressed that less than half of Hawaii’s residents are fully vaccinated and it is impossible to tell who has been vaccinated and who has not in order to explain his decision not to align Hawaiian guidelines with CDC guidelines. Above all, he said he wanted more of the state’s children to be vaccinated.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration just this week extended emergency approval for the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine to children 12 and older. The vaccine was previously only approved for children aged 16 and over.

Approximately 42% of Hawaiian residents are fully vaccinated, while 60% of the population have received at least one vaccination.

Ige said there will be no “hard and fast shutdown” if vaccinated people in Hawaii can drop their masks, but said he is working with the county mayors and the state’s epidemiologist to integrate vaccination rates into tiered systems , Matrices set up to set restrictions on businesses and various activities.

The Hawaiian mask mandate requires that everyone wear face covering in public, whether indoors or outdoors. This does not apply to people who exercise outside of sporting activities or who are active outdoors alone or with members of their household. However, everyone must still be a minimum of 6 feet away from others.

By order of the governor, Breach of the mask mandate is a misdemeanor and can result in up to a year in prison, a fine of $ 5,000, or both, although there have been no reports of such serious consequences.

There have been around 260 subpoenas and arrests on Oahu since May 1 for violations of emergency regulations, according to Michelle Yu, a spokeswoman for the Honolulu Police Department. She didn’t know how many, if any, of them included masks. Since September, she said there have been nearly 29,000 mask-related warnings.

Walensky said in announcing the new CDC guidelines that they are based on the latest studies showing that available vaccines protect against variants and have been shown to be highly effective in preventing mild and serious illness, hospitalization and death in real-world settings.

Sarah Kemble, Hawaii’s acting state epidemiologist, said in video footage made available to the Honolulu Star Advertiser that she was delighted with the new CDC guidelines.

“It shows me that there is now enough science and data behind it to say that masks may no longer be needed once you’re fully vaccinated,” she said due to the low risk of contracting the virus or spreading it. But Kemble said there are other considerations when translating this into local policy guidance, e.g. B. Whether it is possible to ensure that anyone who does not wear a mask is actually vaccinated.

“The pound of gold is when we get vaccinated enough of our general population so that we can all relax and reopen more fully as a community and return to the life we ​​think is normal,” she said.

Local control

This is not the first time Ige has turned back against federal guidelines. More than a month ago, the CDC also recommended abolishing testing and quarantine requirements for vaccinated travelers. While the state this week introduced a vaccination passport system for residents traveling between the islands, the governor has not yet extended that to travelers coming from the mainland or overseas. On Thursday, he reiterated his concerns that the state still has no way of verifying that someone from another state or country has actually been vaccinated.

“The CDC cannot help us find out who is vaccinated and who is not, and that detail is left to the state and counties,” he said.

He also pushed against political pressure, including US Senator Brian Schatz, to ease restrictions on outdoor youth sports. As sports like soccer have resumed, parents have complained that they are not allowed to watch sports practice or games while they are outdoors.

Schatz wrote a letter to Ige on Thursday asking him to reassess restrictions on outdoor games, as well as youth surfing competitions and outrigger canoe races.

“We already allow people on beaches, we allow gatherings in bars, and we allow other outdoor activities, but inexplicably we don’t allow parents and guardians to watch their own children play sports outside in the sun and the open sky,” he wrote.

Schatz said it was “time we started rewarding the people of Hawaii for being one of the most responsible states in the country in responding to COVID-19.”

Ige said he would look into whether it was appropriate to have spectators at sporting events, but stressed that children, for the most part, have not been vaccinated and are still at risk from the virus.

Hawaii has consistently ranked itself the best in the country for the lowest number of COVID-related deaths per capita, and outperforms states like New Jersey and New York by far. Case numbers have remained low and Hawaii has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Hawaii’s strict restrictions helped the state succeed during the pandemic, but he believes it is time for Hawaii to reflect CDC guidelines.

He said it was better to have a national guideline instead of the current patchwork of various restrictions and that the new CDC guideline on masks and social distancing is safe for Hawaii.

“I also think the most important reason to do this now is that the process of returning to normal is important to our recovery. It’s very important, ”he said. “And masks and their use represent confidence in the vaccine and confidence that we are doing the right things. That’s why I want to support the CDC’s policy. “

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