Economists, healthcare professionals, and elected lawmakers have all called for Governor David Ige to set statewide standards for the wear of masks.
One of Hawaii’s top lawmakers says it is unlikely there will be a special session of the state legislature to enact a statewide mask mandate.
House Speaker Scott Saiki told HPR that Governor David Ige should instead issue an order requiring the wearing of masks.
“I think it’s too unwieldy to enact a statue that would impose a statewide mask order,” Saiki said over Zoom.
Instead, Saiki countered that Governor Ige should clarify masking requirements included in his latest emergency proclamation related to the pandemic. The recently-reelected Speaker noted that executive action is faster and more flexible than legislation.
“The current proclamation does include a sentence that touches upon a mask order,” Saiki noted, “but that sentence is ambiguous. That’s why it is not clear whether there is a statewide mask order in effect now.”
That sentence from Ige’s 14th Proclamation Related to the COVID-19 emergency states that all persons in Hawaii must wear a face covering in compliance with County orders. The only other mention of masks is to require their wear by employees of barber shops and beauty salons.
Without a statewide standard, mask requirements vary from island to island, creating confusion and making enforcement difficult.
Local health experts and economists recently told a committee of state legislators that a mask mandate is critical to limit the spread of COVID-19 and help maintain Hawaii’s economic recovery.
Carl Bonham, Executive Director of University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, called a mask mandate “imperative.” He noted that without universal mask wearing, the estimated number of new COVID-19 cases in January will be double what is expected with an effective mask mandate in place.
“When you do that, you get a surge that is well past what we saw in the summer,” Bonham added.
While that is a public health issue, it is also an economic one. Even without government-mandated lockdowns in place, evidence suggests that a high prevalence of the SARS CoV-2 virus in the community is strongly correlated with economic decline.
A winter surge of coronavirus would spell major trouble for the nascent recovery of Hawaii’s tourism-centric economy.
In a recent meeting of the State House of Representatives Select Committee on COVID-19, Bonham noted that the seven day average count of new cases on Oahu increased by 80% over the previous week.
Ray Vara, head of the hospital chain Hawaii Pacific Health, also advocated for a mask mandate, which he described as “critically important.”
“I think we all need to continue to press on the need for a statewide mandate on the wearing of masks,” Vara said in the same meeting.
While Saiki did acknowledge that Legislature could play a role in codifying a penalty for failing to comply with any mask mandate, he maintained his position that the requirement itself should come from the executive branch of government.
At a press conference last week announcing the resumption of tourism from Japan, Governor Ige said that his administration was drafting legislation to enact a mask mandate and stated he would work with lawmakers to do so, rather than adjusting his proclamation.
Ige did not indicate that he was considering executive action to enact uniform mask standards statewide.