Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Governor Repeals Outdoor Mask Mandate

By Max Dible
May 25, 2021, 3:25 PM HST
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Governor David Ige on Tuesday lifted all mask requirements for outdoor activities, effective immediately.

The amended emergency order applies to all state residents and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. Indoor mask mandates for all individuals remain in place.

“This is effective immediately and statewide,” Ige told reporters during a press conference on the afternoon of May 25. “You will not be required to wear a mask while outside.”

When individuals are congregating outside in large groups, the state Department of Health (DOH) still encourages wearing a protective face covering. However, there will be no enforcement of that suggestion.

The move is a major shift from the governor’s position less than two weeks ago, when he said Hawai´i would not immediately change its mask policies to align with new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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The organization’s new guidelines, issued on May 13, declared that US residents who have completed their vaccination schedules can congregate safely without social distancing or wearing protective face coverings. The guidelines apply to get-togethers both indoors and out, and have no upward gathering size limit.

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At that time, Ige said mask mandates would continue statewide for both indoor and outdoor gatherings, noting that only vaccinated people in circumstances where they could reasonably socially distance should go without face coverings in public, open-air settings.

Now, for the first time in more than a year, everyone in Hawai´i is free to move about outdoors without the requirement of wearing a mask.

DOH Director Dr. Elizabeth Char justified the shift, saying that two weeks ago the state had only fully vaccinated 43% of its population and that positive coronavirus test results were on the rise across the islands. Hawai´i is now approaching 1.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered statewide and the daily two-week average of newly identified cases is pressing downward toward 50.

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“I don’t think we’re being unsafe,” Char said. “Data shows outdoor activities are quite safe.”

Char added she believes the chance of COVID-19 transmission at outdoor gatherings where social distancing is practiced stands below 1%. Char said that if she were attending to an outdoor event with a large group of people, she would still choose to wear her mask.

Hawai´i County Mayor Mitch Roth is hoping to go even further on the Big Island. On Tuesday, his office submitted a request to the governor to expand indoor gathering-size limits from 10 to 25 people and outdoor limits from 25 to 75 individuals.

The governor also announced that the state will lift its suspension of ocean sports competitions, allowing surfers, paddlers and swimmers to get back in the water.

“Surfing and outrigger canoe paddling are so much more than sports,” US Senator Brian Schatz said in a statement following Ige’s announcement. “They are a part of our culture and a way of life. I look forward to seeing our kids out in the water competing in surf contests and regattas again.”

Mayor Roth echoed the senator’s sentiments.

“Our ocean sports are a staple of our island community,” Roth said. “They are paramount in getting back to the health, safety, and sanity of our island residents.”

Finally, the governor noted he plans to make changes to the state’s Safe Travels Program at some point in June. The next step would be to afford a quarantine exemption to trans-Pacific travelers who were vaccinated in Hawai´i.

Currently, anyone returning from the mainland, vaccinated or not, needs to produce a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of travel. Those who were vaccinated in the state, and can prove it, would be able to forego a test when returning from the mainland under the new guidelines Ige says he has planned for next month. Those who have been vaccinated in the state are currently free to travel inter-island without taking a pre- or post-arrival COVID test.

Ige added that he believes Hawai´i will be equipped to afford quarantine exemptions to trans-Pacific travelers vaccinated outside the state by some point this summer, with the help of third party vendors.

The governor and DOH director each continued to encourage all Hawai´i residents to get vaccinated, and to make sure they pursue their second doses if they have already received their first. According to a DOH report, approximately 80% of cases being sequenced in Hawai´i involve COVID-19 variants, many of which are more transmissible than earlier strains.

Max Dible
Max Dible is the News Director for both Big Island Now and Kauai Now. He also serves as News Director for Pacific Media Group's Hawai‘i Island family of radio stations.
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