Saturday, March 26, is going to be an important day for people in Hawaii — as well as people traveling there.
First, Hawaii’s Safe Travels program is set to expire at the end of March 25. That program was put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Hawaii by setting travel restrictions for domestic travelers arriving in Hawaii.
Secondly, Hawaii’s statewide face mask requirement, which is the last one in place in the U.S., will also expire at 11:59 p.m. on March 25. That means masks will no longer be required in most settings beginning March 26, Ige announced.
“It’s taken the entire community to get to this point — with lowered case counts and hospitalizations,” Ige wrote in a series of tweets.
“I want to once again thank everyone for their hard work and commitment to keeping our community safe,” Ige continued. “I know this is a milestone many have been waiting for.”
Getting To This Point
At the end of February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that, given high levels of vaccination and population immunity — achieved by vaccination and infections — the risk of medically significant disease, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19 is now greatly reduced for most people in the U.S.
With those circumstances in mind, the CDC relaxed its mask recommendations in communities where hospitals don’t face high COVID-19 case counts. Since most of the U.S. population lives in an area where COVID-19 is now considered to present either a low or medium risk, that means residents in those areas no longer need to wear a mask while indoors, the CDC explained.
In response, Governor Ige said Hawaii would keep its indoor mask requirement in place while officials continue to monitor conditions across the state, country, and world.
Now, however, just over 76 percent of Hawaii’s population has received the full dose of the vaccination, and nearly 40 percent of the population has received a booster, according to Hawaii’s Department of Health. Importantly, there has also been a 52 percent drop in new COVID-19 cases in Hawaii from February 21–March 6.
“Right now, hospitalizations are trending down, case counts are falling, and we are better at treating people who are infected with the virus,” Ige said, according to Maui News. “Booster shots are saving lives and the CDC rates the state’s COVID-19 community level as ‘low’ all across the state.”
While those developments are all trending in a positive direction, Ige did caution that state officials will continue to monitor the situation.
“We’ve seen previous progress wiped out by a delta or omicron variant,” Ige said, according to Maui News. “So I want to be very clear — I will be ready to reinstitute the mask policy if COVID-19 cases should surge.”
The Case For Masks Remains
While people soon won’t be required to wear a face mask indoors in Hawaii, the practice will still be highly encouraged for many people, as well as for everybody in select settings.
“Masks are still an important tool in preventing transmission of COVID-19,” Dr. Elizabeth Char, director of Hawaii’s Health Department, said in a statement. “We strongly recommend people over age 65, people with compromised immune systems, people who aren’t vaccinated, and those who care for people at risk of severe illness still wear masks indoors. This is especially important in crowded settings.”
To that point, even after the mask mandate in Hawaii expires, Hawaii’s health officials still recommend wearing masks indoors at schools, hospitals and health care facilities, long-term care facilities, shelters, correctional facilities, and other congregate living settings.
Know Before You Go
It should be emphasized that Hawaii’s changes won’t take effect until March 26.
Until then, domestic travelers who want to avoid a mandatory 5-day quarantine upon arrival in Hawaii have two choices: They can provide proof of full vaccination for COVID-19 or proof of a negative COVID-19 test result taken no more than 72 hours before beginning the final leg of their trip. Either way, they must upload the document into the Safe Travels portal and print out a hard copy prior to departure.
You can learn more about the Safe Travels portal here.
If you’re thinking of a trip, be sure to read all of our Hawaii coverage, including: