Updated: September 30, 2023
Governor David Ige announced that the state’s indoor mask mandate will end at 11:59 p.m. on March 25, 2022, when the current emergency proclamation on COVID-19 ends.
The announcement was made during an afternoon press briefing on today.
“Right now hospitalizations are trending down. Case counts are falling, and we are better at treating people who are infected with the virus. Booster shots are saving lives, and the CDC rates the state’s COVID-19 community level as ‘low’ all across the state,” said Gov. Ige. “This is promising, but we’ve seen previous progress wiped out by a delta or omicron variant. I want to be very clear, I will be ready to reinstitute the mask policy if COVID cases should surge. We are continuing to monitor the global, national, and local situation, and will take the actions necessary to ensure the integrity of the state’s health care system.”
State health officials said they take into account a number of factors including trends of cases, hospitalizations, significant community outbreaks, and trends both locally and nationally.
The state’s Safe Travels Hawaiʻi program for domestic travel also ends when the state’s current emergency proclamation related to COVID-19 ends on March 25, 2022.
Masking still recommended for schools and congregate settings
Earlier today, the state Hawaiʻi State Department of Education announced it would be updating its COVID-19 safety protocols to make outdoor masking at public school campuses and HIDOE facilities optional for students, faculty and staff, effective March 9, 2022. The updated guidance for schools still recommends indoor masking.
“We are dropping quarantine requirements for those exposed in the school setting,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble. “And this is one of the reasons that we are still recommending that masks be worn indoors in schools. Those exposed to a known positive case at school will not have to quarantine as long as they’re not symptomatic or sick.”
She explained that next week is Spring Break for public schools and others. “We want to ensure that students come back to a safe environment after spring break. Maintaining indoor masking in schools for the time being is important for keeping our schools open and ensuring in-person learning,” said Dr. Kemble, noting that the CDC guidance is for community settings.
“We strongly recommend that masks be worn in certain settings such as hospitals and health care settings, long term care facilities, shelters, schools, and other congregate living settings such as correctional facilities,” said Dr. Kemble.
Health Director, Dr. Elizabeth Char, FACEP said the department has been tracking the data and studying the trends here and across the nation. “Masks are still an important tool in preventing the transmission of COVID and other respiratory viruses. The Department of Health recommends that those who are immune compromised, our kupuna, and those who are at high risk for serious illness continue to wear masks indoors. We also recommend that those who are healthy, but are around those who are high risk, wear masks to protect them. Indoor masks are recommended when in crowded settings, and especially when in public places with people who you don’t normally come into contact with,” said Dr. Char, also extending the recommendation to situations where individuals are around others who are not vaccinated yet.
“You’ll still see a lot of people wearing masks. Some will do it out of an abundance of caution; others because they are at risk. So please encourage those who feel more comfortable wearing masks to continue to do so,” said Dr. Kemble.
How will this impact cases? Why wait?
Health officials say they hope transmissions will not increase with the dropping of the indoor mask mandate. “I think that’s part of why the governor has been cautious and thoughtful about this. Cause I think we’re wanting to wait until we’re in a really good place so that doesn’t happen. I think really what we’re worried about is the next surge related to another variant, or something along those lines,” said Dr. Char.
“We don’t anticipate that we would get a large rise in cases related to the BA.2 subtype of the omicron variant, but we are definitely keeping eyes on it and watching it,” she said.
When asked why the state will wait until the proclamation expires, Gov. Ige said the state continues to see case counts in the community and 48 hospitalizations today. “We do believe that it makes sense to be thoughtful as we make adjustments to the restrictions… We did see a lot of dropping of restrictions within the counties, and certainly we want to make sure that as the counties are dropping restrictions that it doesn’t trigger a surge in the case counts or in hospitalizations all across the state. We do believe it’s prudent to let the emergency proclamation run its course,” said Gov. Ige.