Mayor Kirk Caldwell on Thursday announced a new face mask mandate for all indoor public spaces as well as outdoors when physical distancing is difficult to maintain.
The mandate, which goes into effect today, is part of an amendment to the mayor’s emergency order that expands the requirement of nonmedical face coverings more extensively than the one issued in April, when they were required primarily at essential businesses and to ride TheBus.
During a news conference at Honolulu Hale, Caldwell said the widespread use of face coverings was crucial to keeping COVID-19 case numbers down on Oahu, particularly heading into the three-day Fourth of July weekend, and as cases surge on the mainland.
“Face coverings are one of the easiest ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Caldwell in a statement. “I know wearing a face covering can be a bit inconvenient and take some time getting used to, but think about who you’re trying to protect.
“Throughout the month of June we saw double-digit bumps in the daily new cases of the virus here on Oahu and, unfortunately, another coronavirus- related death. Doing all we can to control the spread of COVID-19 now is imperative.”
On Thursday the double-digit bump continued, with new cases growing by 20, to a total of 946 in the state, according to the state Health Department. Of the new cases, 17 were on Oahu, bringing the total to 676 for the island.
The infection curve is rising in 40 out of 50 U.S. states, with Florida, Texas, Arizona and California experiencing recent single-day spikes numbering in the thousands.
The mayor’s amendment — approved by Gov. David Ige — mandates the wearing of face coverings at indoor public spaces, including private offices, enclosed malls and public government buildings. In addition, they are mandated outdoors when physical distancing is unlikely or difficult to maintain.
Face coverings are not required for anyone working alone at an office desk. Nor are they required for jogging or walking a dog without others nearby, Caldwell said, but should be worn outdoors when 6 feet of distance cannot be maintained.
The exemptions earlier announced still apply: Face coverings are not required at banking or financial institutions; for those under age 5 and those with breathing or health conditions; and for first responders when it would impede the safe performance of their duties.
Those with health conditions, however, can wear a face shield as an alternative, Caldwell said.
While some mainland governors and mayors are once again shutting down bars and restaurants after reopening commerce, Caldwell said he hopes Honolulu will not have to reinstate stricter rules.
“Here in the City and County of Honolulu, we’ve been thawing out our economy, opening up our communities, methodically and with great purpose, based on the best medical advice we can receive,” the mayor said. “And as of today we have now opened up almost all facets of business except for large events, sporting events, entertainment events, with modifications all along.”
Caldwell noted that in New York City, mandated face coverings in addition to physical distancing and other precautions played a crucial role in reducing the number of COVID-19 cases.
“This one thing, wearing a face covering, made all the difference,” he said. “It’s critical if we’re going to manage the cases here in the City and County of Honolulu.”
A recent study published by the National Academy of Sciences compared the role of mandated face coverings in three epicenters of the pandemic: Wuhan, China, Italy and New York City. The researchers found that face masks significantly reduced the number of infections by more than 66,000 in New York City alone from April 17 to May 9.
Face masks help stop the transmission of droplets potentially carrying aerosolized virus particles, which occurs when people talk, laugh and cough.
Dr. Jill Omori, the city’s infectious disease officer, said both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization have recommended the use of face coverings to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
It might not be comfortable, she said, but “you are not only protecting yourself, you’re being a socially responsible member of society by wearing a facial covering and preventing the spread of disease.” Up to 40% of individuals can spread COVID-19 without exhibiting symptoms, she said.
“If everyone actually wore facial coverings, we could prevent much more spread than even the very strictest lockdowns,” Omori said. “So if we’re able to also comply with the mandate, we will see our numbers go significantly down.”
Those who do not comply with the facial covering mandate can be issued warnings by police or cited, said Caldwell. Violations are considered a misdemeanor carrying a fine of up to $5,000.
EXEMPTIONS FROM FACE MASK MANDATE
>> Within banks, financial institutions, using an ATM machine
>> Medical conditions where the wearing of a face covering might pose a health or safety risk
>> Those engaging in physical activity outdoors where physical distancing can be maintained (walking, jogging, hiking, etc.)
>> Children under age 5
>> First responders if face masks impede the safety of their duties
>> Children in child care and educational facilities that are following CDC guidance
Source: City and County of Honolulu