Masks are no longer required outdoors in Hawaii.
Gov. David Ige announced the change Tuesday. The amendment to the state’s emergency proclamation brings Hawaii’s mask mandate more in line with recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, which says most Americans, particularly those who are fully vaccinated, do not need to wear a mask outdoors.
“Because we’ve made significant progress, I’ve signed an emergency proclamation making an amendment that will lift the mask mandate for while you are outdoors,” said Ige at an afternoon news conference. “This is effective immediately and statewide. You will not be required to wear a mask while outside. However, we do strongly encourage everyone when they are outside in large groups to continue to wear a mask.”
That, too, is in line with CDC guidance, which recommends masking up at large, crowded events.
Masks will also still be required indoors, regardless of whether one is fully vaccinated.
“The virus is still circulating in our community, and unvaccinated people are particularly at risk,” said Ige. “And until more are vaccinated, we must continue to take precautions indoors and in large groups because those actions are important to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
In addition, starting Tuesday, the state is lifting its suspension of ocean sports competitions, including surfing, canoe paddling and swimming. The state will resume issuing permits for ocean activities, and counties will also be allowed to issue permits for the use of their parks.
“Permits will be issued, provided that public health and safety protocols are followed to protect our communities, contestants and spectators,” Ige said.
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi welcomed the new developments.
“We are grateful multi-team sports tournaments like baseball and soccer, canoe regattas, and ocean sports competitions are once again allowed and just in time for summer,” said Blangiardi in a statement. “As the community continues to get vaccinated, we believe the outdoor sports and activities are safe and we will continue to work with the governor and state on easing additional restrictions. In the meantime, I urge those who have not been vaccinated to please go and get your dose, not just for you, but for our community.”
Blangiardi also said Oahu should move to Tier 4 of the county’s reopening strategy in “just a few days.” Tier 4 allows groups of 25 to gather, up from the current limit of 10.
Blangiardi said he is proposing Oahu’s tiers be set based on the percentage of the population vaccinated and wants Oahu to move to Tier 4 when that number is 50%. About 49% of the state’s population is currently fully vaccinated.
Blangiardi, speaking at the same news conference with Ige, said he will ask Ige to approve the changes to allow Oahu to move to Tier 4 within days.
Ige said he hasn’t “taken specific actions” on any changes to Oahu’s tier structure.
On Tuesday the state Department of Health reported 23 new confirmed and probable coronavirus infections, bringing Hawaii’s total since the start of the pandemic to 35,924 cases. No new deaths were reported, keeping the toll at 496.
The average daily new case count was at 53, a 37% drop from two weeks ago and about half what it was in early April.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green said new coronavirus case numbers are trending down in Hawaii as more residents get vaccinated.
He said 38 in the state are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 and that they tend to be younger people who are not as critically ill. This is a huge improvement compared with August, when more than 300 were hospitalized with COVID-19.
At Tuesday’s news conference, Green said more than 1.5 million doses of COVID- 19 vaccine had been administered in the state, according to CDC statistics.
According to DOH, 57% of Hawaii’s population has received at least one dose, and 49% is fully vaccinated.
Dr. Elizabeth Char, DOH’s director, said the state continues to conduct genomic sequencing to detect the presence of variants in Hawaii.
The state is seeing a rise in variants of concern, she said, including the B.1.1.7 or U.K. variant, the B.1.429 or California variant and the P.1 Brazil variant, which is concerning.
The threshold for reaching herd immunity, she said, is a moving target — between 70% to 80% of the population being vaccinated — but higher, depending on the presence of more transmissible variants and how the disease evolves.
She had no estimated timeline for when mask requirements indoors could be dropped in Hawaii.
Ige said changes to the Safe Travels program are also on the horizon.
“If our vaccination program is successful, I expect to make changes to the Safe Travels program next month,” he said. “The next step that we would pursue would be to provide a quarantine exception for trans-Pacific travelers who are vaccinated here in Hawaii.”
Those who are vaccinated in Hawaii could travel to the mainland and return without pre-travel testing and the mandatory 10-day quarantine.
Eventually, fully vaccinated trans-Pacific travelers would also be able to visit Hawaii without pre-travel testing or quarantine requirements, according to Ige. The state continues to work with third-party providers who would verify out-of-state vaccinations.
“As more and more people are vaccinated, we will begin to use vaccination metrics for other policy decisions as we move forward,” said Ige.
The following changes were also announced Tuesday:
>> On Kauai, Ige approved the addition of two more tiers— Tier 5 and Tier 6 — to the county’s current framework to further loosen restrictions triggered by COVID-19 vaccination rates.
Tier 5 would go into effect when 60% of Hawaii residents have been fully vaccinated and Kauai’s seven-day average case count is less than three with a test positivity rate under 1%. Under Tier 5, group limits would be increased to 25 indoors and 75 outdoors, and the maximum capacity for businesses and activities would increase to 75%.
Tier 6 would go into effect once 70% of residents statewide are fully vaccinated, and would allow businesses and events to open at full capacity. All restrictions would be withdrawn.
>> On Maui, Mayor Michael Victorino said the county plans to continue mandatory post-travel COVID-19 testing for all trans-Pacific travelers through June 4 at a cost of about $1.7 million. He said it has given the county important information on the source of variants.
>> On Hawaii island, Mayor Mitch Roth said the county is looking at allowing up to 25 inside (instead of 10) to gather, and 75 outside (instead of 25), pending the governor’s approvals.