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‘Shaka’ may be viewed as a positive sign for urging mask use, according to study

  • JAMM AQUINO / APRIL 30
                                A family wears masks while walking along Waimanu Street in Honolulu.

    JAMM AQUINO / APRIL 30

    A family wears masks while walking along Waimanu Street in Honolulu.

  • STAR-ADVERTISER / JUNE 18
                                A pedestrian walks by a sign on the window of an ABC Store on Kalakaua Avenue.

    STAR-ADVERTISER / JUNE 18

    A pedestrian walks by a sign on the window of an ABC Store on Kalakaua Avenue.

A friendly “shaka” paired with a few simple hand motions might improve compliance with face mask rules meant to curb the spread of COVID-19, according to a study published in the September issue of the Hawai‘i Journal of Health &Social Welfare.

The universal, nonconfrontational response to mask deniers might be more effective than punitive enforcement, said co-authors of the study, which found a little more than three-fourths of people observed at two locations in Honolulu — the downtown financial district and Waikiki — used face masks in an appropriate fashion, covering their nose and mouth, while the rest were either incorrectly masked or not masked at all.

The rate of compliance with public mask use in downtown Honolulu was 88%, significantly higher than in Waikiki, where 66% of subjects wore face coverings, report the study’s co-authors, who are connected to the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine. They note evidence has shown that face coverings may decrease the rates of COVID-19 transmission.

The city’s COVID-19 rules mandate the use of face coverings while outdoors in public spaces on Oahu when maintaining a physical distance of 6 feet from others is not feasible. Exceptions include individuals engaging in physical activity outdoors, such as walking, jogging and hiking, where physical distancing can be maintained.

The observations were conducted July 30 at two outdoor locations in Honolulu with high rates of pedestrian traffic. One was in an open area in downtown Honolulu adjacent to major financial institutions, and the other was outside a shopping area across from Waikiki Beach.

Mask use was assessed at each location for the first 100 individuals who passed the observers. Of the 200 subjects, 154 (77%) correctly used face masks, and 46 (23%) either incorrectly used or did not use face masks, the study said.

In the downtown area, 88% of the observed population correctly used face coverings, while 8% were not masked. In Waikiki, only 66% of subjects correctly used face masks, while 28% were not masked.

The observers also noted that cloth masks appeared to be used more frequently than medical masks — 70% versus 30%.

Researchers speculated that lower public mask use in Waikiki may be due to area’s popularity for recreational activities and the presence, albeit minor these days, of tourists. Other factors may include age differences, employment backgrounds and planned immediate activities.

Based on the findings, the researchers offered other suggestions for improving compliance that included implementing fewer or more stringent mask exemptions, as needed, to avoid confusion about which outdoor activities are not exempt, and tailoring public education messages for different populations.

For example, the study said, younger people may respond more favorably to information delivered through social media platforms using local athletes and social media influencers, while commercials on local TV newscasts would reach older residents, and public service announcements on flights to Hawaii would educate visitors about local rules.

The “friendly approach” that uses a shaka goes something like this: “Properly masked individuals, upon identifying an improperly or nonmasked individual, point their index fingers toward their mask and move their index finger up and down without touching the mask. This gesture could then be followed by a ‘shaka’ to help convey that this is merely a friendly reminder and is not meant to be confrontational.

“As a culturally relevant action, the ‘shaka’ could encourage locals to use the gesture and remind visitors to respect and protect the health of the people of Hawaii.”

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