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Hawaii keeping mask mandate in place

HONOLULU — Despite having among the lowest coronavirus infection and mortality rates in the nation, Hawaii will keep its statewide mask mandate in place for now.

Even as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced vaccinated people can now ditch masks and social distancing in most situations, Hawaii Gov. David Ige said Thursday he’s not ready to loosen rules in the islands.

“We are unable to determine who is vaccinated and who is not vaccinated,” Ige said. “The best mitigation measure is for everyone to wear a mask.”

Ige said he would review the CDC guidance and plans to incorporate vaccination rates into future restriction guidelines, but for now people in Hawaii must keep their masks on.

“The state mask mandate continues to be in force,” Ige said. “The CDC is not able to help us identify who is vaccinated and who is not, and that detail is left to the state and counties.”

Ige said he hopes to get more adults and children vaccinated and for the state to be closer to herd immunity before making major changes.

About 40% of Hawaii’s residents are fully vaccinated. The state has among the highest vaccination rates in the U.S.

Ige is facing opposition from some officials.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said he believes the state’s mask mandate should be lifted for fully vaccinated people.

Lifting the mandate is “part of the process to return to normalcy and to trust the vaccines,” Green said. “I think the state should adopt that because we believe in science.”

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz sent a letter to Ige this week asking him to review restrictions on youth sports.

“We already allow people on beaches, we allow gatherings in bars, and we permit other outdoor activities, but we inexplicably do not allow parents and guardians to watch their own kids play sports outside in the sunshine and open air,” Schatz wrote.

It’s “time that we begin to reward the people of Hawaii for being one of the most responsible states in the country in responding to COVID-19,” Schatz said.

Community members had mixed reactions.

“There’s lot of people on different sides of the issue. Personally, I’ve been vaccinated so I like the fact that I don’t have to wear a mask,” said Honolulu resident Rick Tune.

But resident Taylor Vitarelli agrees with the governor.

“I think we should still wear masks because even though a lot of people are vaccinated some people don’t have that opportunity,” she said.

Rules in Hawaii are different on some islands.

The state requires people to wear a face mask while indoors in public. Everyone must also wear masks outdoors in public when physical distancing is not possible. However, on Maui, officials require masks outdoors even when social distancing can be maintained.

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