Lawmaker asks Ige to drop Hawaii's mask mandate
by Kim Jarrett, The Center Square, Feb 27, 2022
(The Center Square) – House Minority Whip Val Okimoto is asking Hawaii Gov. David Ige to rescind the state's mask mandate in light of new guidelines released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new CDC guidelines state mask wearing is a "personal preference" in areas where the COVID-19 community level is low. Residents who live in medium areas where the risk is medium and who are immunocompromised should talk to their health care providers about wearing a mask indoors, the CDC said.
Hawaii's four counties are in the low to medium risk range, according to the CDC guidelines released Friday.
Ige plans to keep the mask mandates until at least March 25, when the current state of emergency expires, he told KHON.
The other 49 states have either ended indoor mask mandates or have set an expiration date. Hawaii is the only state where officials have not announced an end date.
Okimoto wrote "the people can protect themselves without losing their liberties," in a letter to Ige on Friday.
"Our state is 76% vaccinated, has complete access to vaccinations, COVID-19 treatments and an ability to adapt to new strains of this virus," Okimoto wrote. "It is time to transition to living with this virus."
The state has the second-lowest COVID-19 fatality rate in the country, which Hawaii Department of Health spokesperson Brooks Baehr attributed to the state's mask mandate.
Okimoto said the mandate costs the state in other ways.
"These mandated restrictions have cost a heavy toll on our economy, our communities and the mental well-being of our people and our children," Okimoto wrote in her letter. "We no longer need to pay that toll."
CDC officials said Friday masks are no longer necessary unless someone lives in an area where hospitals are struggling to keep up, adding that means about 70% of Americans can go maskless.
"We want to give people a break from things like mask wearing," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said.