Gov. David Ige said he is concerned that recent COVID cases appear to be stuck at an elevated level and doesn’t expect to ease restrictions to the state’s mask mandate or travel entry requirements soon.
Ige made those remarks this morning during the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii livestream. During the discussion, Ige said he still supports Honolulu’s tier system, which was developed before the COVID-19 vaccine became available and uses health measures as the benchmarks for the easing and tightening of COVID-19 restrictions.
“Right now, I am concerned because we’ve been really stuck at an elevated level,” Ige said. “As you know, we’ve been averaging almost 100 cases and 80 to 90 cases over the last week and it hasn’t really come down even though more people are vaccinated. So we continue to look at the data and try and make the best public health decision that we can.”
Ige said the basic public health behind Honolulu’s tier system still makes sense.
“This virus is transmitted person to person as people interact. If the virus activity is very high, we want to really restrict interactions. If the virus activity is low, then we can allow more interactions in our community,” he said.
Ige said epidemiologists have told him that the state is seeing “more clusters of smaller groups.”
Ige said the next four weeks will be very important to controlling the spread of the virus as Hawaii works to ensure vaccination distribution outpaces infections.
“Public health officials are really concerned because as people get infected who may be vaccinated we could end up with a variant that the vaccine is not as effective … and then we might be back right where we were 12 months ago with a very infectious virus and a vaccine that doesn’t work against it,” Ige said.
Ige said the state has launched a campaign to encourage more people to get vaccinated.
“What we are seeing is that maybe those who are now eligible may not have been as motivated or they have been waiting for a while and they don’t see a sense of urgency,” Ige said. “The more and the quicker we can get to herd immunity, the quicker we’ll get back to the new normal.”
Ige said it is for these reasons and others that the state won’t be updating its mask mandate to comply with new CDC guidelines that eased some mask requirements for fully vaccinated people.
“Because, we can’t recognize whose been vaccinated and who hasn’t, we thought that it would just be simpler to maintain the current mask mandate and then we would change it, I think, as more and more people get vaccinated.”
On May 11, the state will begin allowing travelers, who were fully vaccinated for COVID-19 in Hawaii, to travel interisland without testing.
Ige said the state can’t discriminate between Hawaii residents and visitors so it can’t offer a vaccine exemption to trans-Pacific travelers until the state can verify vaccinations done in other states. Ige said the state has tapped CommonPass and CLEAR to find a solution.
“It will be a ways off, at least a couple of weeks off, before we can get verification of vaccinations done in other states,” he said. “I think that that’s an important part of our program, and if we are able to verify vaccination status of those that got vaccinated in other states, then we would be able to reopen the trans-Pacific travel.”