Ige: Mask mandate to end March 25

  • IGE

Gov. David Ige’s last COVID-19 restriction for the state will end March 25.

Last week, Ige announced that his emergency proclamation for the state will run out on March 25, and programs such as Safe Travels will terminate immediately thereafter. However, Ige made no announcements then about the statewide indoor mask mandate, which he said could extend beyond the 25th.

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But on Tuesday, Ige announced that the mask mandate will also end along with the other restrictions.

Ige said the continuing decrease in daily cases and hospitalizations in the week since his first announcement contributed to his decision to end the mask policy. But he warned that if those numbers rise again, the policy may return.

“I want to be very clear: I will be ready to reinstitute the mask policy if COVID cases should surge,” Ige said.

State Health Director Elizabeth Char said the Department of Health will monitor trends to decide whether the mandate should resume — if serious outbreaks reoccur in Hawaii, if case numbers begin to trend upward again on the mainland, or if the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determines that the risk of COVID transmission in Hawaii has become elevated.

Char said she hopes there will not be a significant spike in cases as a result of the end of the mandate, but added that the greater concern is the rise of a new COVID-19 variant. One such variant, BA.2, has become more and more prevalent on the mainland in the last few weeks.

Char said the DOH is “keeping an eye on it,” and doesn’t expect it to lead to a spike in cases.

Those with compromised immune systems, the elderly and the unvaccinated, as well as those who directly interact with them, should continue to wear masks for their own safety, Char said. At the same time, state Epidemiologist Sarah Kemble said the DOH recommends that masks continue to be worn in schools, although she added that such a recommendation is not a mandate, but will be considered by the schools.

Other places where masks are still recommended include hospitals and other health care facilities, correctional facilities, shelters and other congregate living settings.

Before Ige’s press conference Tuesday, the Department of Education announced that its outdoor mask mandate would end today at DOE facilities, but its indoor mandate would remain in place.

Ige said businesses still have the authority to require masks on their premises should they see fit.

“This has certainly been a long and relentless challenge for our community,” Ige said. “I am proud of our response to the pandemic. The fact that we continue to have among the lowest infection rate … and the lowest fatality rate in the country is really a testament to everyone being willing to sacrifice on behalf of the broader community.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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