After nearly two years of enforcing some of the most stringent COVID-19 guidelines in the country, Hawaii’s governor announced Tuesday the state will drop its mask mandate on March 26, becoming the final state to drop its masking rules.
At the height of the pandemic, most states had some form of mandate. All but 11 instituted mask mandates at some time, according to AARP.
But as the national wave of COVID cases and hospitalizations from the omicron variant began receding in February, a flurry of states acted quickly to drop their indoor mask mandates. Gov. David Ige said at a news conference that the state had reduced COVID-19 to the point where most Hawaiians would be safe without masks indoors.
Hawaii has one of the lowest coronavirus infection rates in the nation, and over 75% of Hawaii residents have received two doses of a COVID vaccine – 10% higher than the national rate – according to the Hawaii Department of Health.
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“We put a premium on the health and safety of our community,” Ige said.
The governor said that he would be ready to reinstate the mask mandate if cases surged again.
There will still be some situations where masks will be required in the state. For example, Hawaii’s department of education said Tuesday morning that while outdoor masking would no longer be required at public school campuses, the indoor mask mandate would stay.
The island state has implemented some of the strictest COVID mandates in the nation over the past two years, including a quarantine period for travelers that didn’t have proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test.
That quarantine mandate, too, will be dropped this month, Ige said. Starting on March 26, those arriving from other places in the U.S. won’t have to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to avoid sequestering themselves for five days.
The state screened 11.3 million passengers since the testing exemption was launched in October 2020, Ige said.
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Americans across the nation will now have to decide for themselves if they want to continue wearing masks.
“People are going to have to make their own decision about what risk they’re personally willing to tolerate,” said Dr. Susan Kline, an epidemiologist and professor of infectious diseases at the University of Minnesota medical school. “Masks aren’t perfect but they substantially lower your chance of getting COVID-19.”
Contributing: Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY; The Associated Press