Updated: September 28, 2023
State officials announced today that indoor masking rules will remain for summer programs at public schools, adding that the decision for the fall has not yet been made.
Dr. Sarah Kemble, state epidemiologist at Hawaiʻi Department of Health, and Keith Hayashi, interim superintendent at Hawaiʻi Department of Education, spoke during a news conference today, cautioning safety ahead of upcoming high school graduations as the state sees a rise in COVID-19 cases over the last seven weeks.
Kemble said that the state is in the seventh consecutive week of increased COVID-19 cases, and with it has come a rise in hospitalizations.
During the online conference, officials confirmed that K-12 masking guidance will stay in place for summer programs at public schools statewide.
“Our K-12 guidance applies to the summer program, and we will not be changing it,” Kemble said.
“For the fall, those decisions have not yet been made,” she added. “We will continue to review the numbers and the data in the coming weeks as we move through June, and we will be issuing further guidance about the fall.”
Masking in schools has come under fire from some parents and even teachers who have said that it has gone on too long, it hurts students’ ability to learn and socialize, and that children have extremely low COVID-19 fatality rates.
A recent rally organized opponents of DOE’s universal masking rules. Universal indoor mask mandates were lifted for the majority of the state March 26.
Kemble countered, saying that children impact those around them and have a high risk of transmission.
“For our younger children that haven’t yet have the opportunity to be vaccinated, transmission risks can pretty high and so that’s something to keep in mind,” she said. “It’s not just the child themselves, it’s who they’re around.”
DOH and DOE officials have said individual case investigation, close contact identification and quarantine of in-school exposures are no longer required “only if universal indoor masking is implemented.” Thus, keeping masking rules allows more children to remain in school.
Despite the rise in cases and the caution for safety during gatherings, officials stopped short today of announcing any new restrictions when it comes to graduations.
Hayashi said that it is up to each school to implement safety guidelines, depending on commencement facilities and other factors.
Baldwin High School had announced a ban on lei-giving during this year’s graduation ceremony due to COVID-19 concerns. After student and parent outcry, including an online petition, the restriction was repealed.
When asked whether any DOE schools will have ban lei-giving at commencement, Hayashi said he did not know of existing bans.
Kemble said that Hawai’i’s COVID-19 cases have increased for the last seven weeks, with the new seven-day average of 722 cases reported today.
DOH spokesman Brooks Baehr said that 11 people statewide were hospitalized with COVID-19 on March 27. Now, there are 91 hospitalizations.