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Law mandating masks needed, Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green insists

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Coronavirus cases are rising again, and Lt. Gov. Josh Green is seeking to stop the spread by asking Hawaii’s legislators to pass a statewide mandatory mask-wearing law during a special session this month.

If at least 95% of people wore masks, it would stop infections from spreading, Green said. Mask compliance is about 84% on Oahu and even less on the neighbor islands, according to state Department of Health figures.

“At 95% COVID drops off the planet. In the 80s COVID cases drift upward — that’s what I’ve seen,” Green said Sunday in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “I feel very strongly that we would benefit from a statewide mask mandate.”

Green said he is worried that COVID cases have already surged from Halloween and the election. He points out the statewide COVID-19 count was just 68 on Halloween but by Thursday had hit 100 and was 122 on Friday and 128 on Saturday and again Sunday.

“We’re in a slight surge, which I think will continue as we head into midmonth,” Green said. “We’ve begun to normalize slightly with our economy reopening, and we are seeing community spread and, in my opinion, the early results of Halloween and the election.”

Green said Hawaii hasn’t seen the worst of the long election lines and parties. It’s typically five to seven days after gatherings that people end up having symptoms and testing positive, he said.

Moreover, Green fears cases could shoot up even more from the flu, the continued reopening of Hawaii’s economy and Thanksgiving gatherings.

Current mask rules have been criticized as confusing, especially for visitors.

Sam Shenkus, Royal Hawaiian Center vice president and director of marketing, said center security personnel, on average, hand out 500 free masks a month to patrons.

Green said Hawaii legislators could take up the mask mandate Nov. 18, when the state Senate already is meeting to consider confirming Todd W. Eddins as an associate justice to the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Gov. David Ige said Friday during a media briefing at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport that he felt the measure might be too complicated for a special session and perhaps should wait until next year’s legislative season.

Green said, “I respect the governor, but I have faith that they could do it.”

He said the state Attorney General’s Office is already working on language for a bill, and Hawaii could model the structure after other states that already have passed rules.

“The current mask mandate has people charged with a misdemeanor that ends up getting dropped in court,” Green said. “I’d like to see a simple, smaller ticket immediately implemented. No one likes getting a $100 ticket. I think it would help. This fall could be tough if we don’t do something.”

Green’s comments came as Hawaii health officials reported one new coronavirus- related death on Oahu and 128 new infections statewide, the second day in a row with 128 new cases. Since the start of the pandemic, Hawaii has had 221 deaths and 15,947 cases. The Health Department officials said Sunday’s positivity rate was 2.7% based on 128 cases out of 4,724 tests.

Sunday’s new infection cases include 106 on Oahu, 19 on the Big Island, two on Maui and one Hawaii resident diagnosed outside the state, according to the Health Department.

Hawaii health officials said Sunday that 1,280 infections are currently considered active cases statewide.

According to the latest data from the Health Department’s Hawaii COVID-19 Data dashboard, 75 patients with COVID-19 are in Hawaii hospitals, with 13 in intensive care units and eight on ventilators.

Green expects about 7.2% of the current minisurge in COVID-19 cases will result in hospitalizations, increasing the count in Hawaii hospitals to about 100.

Waikiki Neighborhood Board member Jeff Merz said mask uniformity is needed now.

“We definitely can’t wait until next year,” Merz said. “A lot of other states and Europe have seen their numbers go up. I’d hate to see us get a third wave. It would be a shame — after we put this big effort into the last shutdown — if we blew it.”

On Saturday, when health officials reported 108 new infections on Oahu, Mayor Kirk Caldwell issued a statement calling for residents to not let down their guard.

“Now is not the time to give up,” he said. “Going into the next few months we have an opportunity to keep the numbers down and continue moving forward. I know this is difficult. I am asking everyone , if you gather, please gather safely. Gather in groups of five or less for now. Wear your face coverings even when you’re around your close friends. This won’t be forever, but if we all do our part now we can save lives, keep our community healthy, keep our economy open, and work toward a more normal way of life.”

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