Hawaii Announces End to Indoor Mask Mandate, the Last State to Do So

Posted: Mar 08, 2022 9:45 PM
Hawaii Announces End to Indoor Mask Mandate, the Last State to Do So

Source: AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy

Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) announced Tuesday that the state's indoor mask mandate will be lifted later this month, making it the final U.S. state to ease such restrictions.

Ige said at a news briefing that indoor masking will no longer be required beginning March 26.

"Because of people who have been serious about this and other measures to prevent the spread of the virus, we have reduced COVID-19 in Hawaii to the point where most of us will be safe without masks," he said.

He said COVID hospitalizations and case counts are declining and that "we are better at treating people who are infected with the virus." Ige also said booster shots are "saving lives" and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "rates the state's COVID-19 community level as low all across the state."

After an uptick in COVID cases in the middle of January due to the highly infectious omicron variant of the virus, the number of new cases in Hawaii has since trended downwards.

The governor said Hawaii was the last state to end its indoor mask mandate because "we are all willing to sacrifice to keep each other healthy and safe." The state has required indoor masking since April 2020.

Oregan and Washington state still have indoor mask mandates in place but the requirements in those states will expire on Saturday, according to a joint statement released by the two governors last month.

Masks will still be required inside schools but the state's outdoor masking requirement for schools was lifted on Tuesday. 

And Sarah Kemble, a state epidemiologist at the Hawaii Department of Health, said at the news briefing that students would no longer have to quarantine if they were exposed to someone with the coronavirus.

State officials also still recommend that people mask up if they are in crowded areas or near others who are immunocompromised.

Elizabeth Char, the director of Hawaii's health department, said the mask mandate could be reinstated if the state sees a surge in COVID cases. 

"What we're worried about is, you know, the next surge related to another variant," she said at the briefing.

Hawaii's announcement comes after the CDC updated its guidance last month to only recommend Americans wear masks if they reside in counties with higher rates of COVID hospitalizations. The agency's guidance means more than 70 percent of Americans, including students, are no longer advised to mask up, a significant reversal from the guidance of just a few weeks ago.

According to the CDC, the coronavirus community risk in each county in Hawaii is low.

Ige announced last week that entry requirements for travelers would be lifted starting March 26. State and county employers also will no longer be mandated to show either their vaccination status or a negative COVID test result.