Maj Gen. Kenneth Hara said the state is looking to implement a statewide mask mandate to make the rules more uniform and easier to understand, and that a special session of the Hawaii Legislature may needed to pass it quickly to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.
“We are working with the state Legislature and the attorney general will put in a legislative proposal,” Hara said on Spotlight Hawaii this morning.
As it stands now, violators of the state or county mask mandate can be cited with a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $5,000 fine or up to a year in jail.
Some people, including Lt. Gov. Josh Green, have advocated changing the punishment to a ticket and fine, similar to jaywalking. But to do that, the law itself must be changed by the Legislature, which is not set to reconvene until mid-January 2021.
“What we want to do is work with the Legislature to see if they’ll be willing to come in to do a special session to get that legislative proposal passed, so that we can implement the ticket/fine concept,” Hara said.
Hara serves as the director of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, one of the six divisions of the state Department of Defense, and is the incident commander for Hawaii’s coronavirus response.
He said the state has been working hard to increase its COVID-19 response resources: stockpiling PPE; hiring more trained health care workers and contact tracers; and purchasing equipment to increase testing capacity. Right now, the state can process roughly 6,000 coronavirus tests a day, but Hara said that should ramp up to 15,000 in the next few weeks.
Hara said that Hawaii is doing well when it comes to public health, with one of the lowest rates of infections and deaths in country. But he said the economic impact of the pandemic deeply concerns him, and that is why opening up trans-Pacific travel has been a priority.
“How do we restore Hawaii’s economy, while still protecting the public’s health? And that was kind of the main purpose of this Safe Travels Hawaii program, and trying to find that sweet spot,” he said.
Hara said the launch of Safe Travels has been a success, and said the state is continuing to work to streamline the program and add new approved testing partners, along with informing visitors on how to travel to the islands safely, and follow the rules of social distancing, mask wearing and limited gatherings.
Spotlight Hawaii, which shines a light on issues affecting Hawaii, airs live 10:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Facebook page. Join Ryan Kalei Tsuji and Yunji de Nies this month for a conversation with guests. Click here to watch previous conversations.