Green: Mask mandate to remain in place

  • Metsai Schueler waits in line to enter KTA Kona donning a mask and gloves on in April. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

Hawaii’s mask mandate will likely remain in place for some time despite the start of vaccination for the COVID-19 pandemic in the Aloha State this week, Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Wednesday.

That’s to ensure no transmission of the virus, even after people receive their two shots of the COVID-19 vaccine and new case numbers, hopefully, wane.

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“We’ll keep the mask mandates. For some time for sure. My feeling is we should keep the mask mandate until we achieve herd immunity in our state,” Green said during a Honolulu Star-Advertiser Spotlight Hawaii program livestreamed Wednesday.

The need for widespread use is necessitated by the lack of means to tell by looking at a person if they’ve received the vaccine. Asking someone for a card, for example, could lead to confrontations.

“I think it’s better for us to continue with a good policy of wearing masks, safe, social distancing, handwashing, we’ll all benefit from that. Over time, though, you can expect us constantly to reassess the program because I know that masks are uncomfortable for some, and they are difficult from a social standpoint, but we still will have a lot of COVID around for some time and we’ll certainly have a lot of risk around for some time,” Green said. “So, let’s get through the bulk of the vaccinations, and then, hopefully, masks will be in the rear-view mirror or they’ll certainly be in our drawers until the next problem we have.”

Green said there’s also no immediate plans to alter the state’s Safe Travels program, which allows travelers to forego a mandatory quarantine by presenting a negative result from a pre-travel COVID-19 test. Counties have been able to add additional requirements, such as Hawaii County requiring a second post-arrival test.

Gov. David Ige will “stay the course through the holidays,” Green said, touting the system’s ability to keep case counts low and travelers realizing that Hawaii is serious about required testing.

“So, the system is kind of normalized internally and every time we make a change, it freaks out the mainland and travel companies and everything,” he said. “I think that’s where the governor is right now, he wants to get through the holidays and that would mean Christmas and New Year’s till we look at any other changes.”

Green does not anticipate a mandate requiring a vaccine to travel to Hawaii or between islands. However, he plans to propose that starting Feb. 1 — with the approval of Gov. David Ige — trans-Pacific and interisland travelers who are fully vaccinated be exempt from pre-travel testing.

“If you’ve completed the vaccination process, and therefore are immune, you shouldn’t have to go and get pre-tests. It’s not 100% guaranteed but the likelihood of infection is so low that I don’t see the reasons to put people through. Plus, from my perspective, it adds an extra incentive” to get vaccinated, Green said. “I certainly will get something like that into our policy, but it’s a little ways off because nobody’s going to get their second shot for at least three weeks.”

Late Wednesday, hours after Green’s comments, Ige issued his 17th COVID-19 emergency proclamation, reducing the quarantine period for travelers into and within Hawaii from 14 days to 10 days starting today.

The change is based on updated recommendations issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the state Department of Health, Ige’s office said in a prepared statement.

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“A 10-day self-quarantine period allows us to control the spread of COVID-19 in the community while balancing the need to address the mental and emotional health issues caused by isolation, to improve compliance, and to lessen the economic hardship for those unable to return to work. We will continue to assess the situation and make decisions based on evidence and the advice of our health experts,” said Ige.

The proclamation also specified the moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent is extended until Feb. 21, 2021.

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