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Governor: Hawaii will keep mask rules despite new CDC guidance

Federal update says vaccinated may drop masks in most settings

Gov. David Ige on Thursday afternoon announced that Hawaii will keep its mask mandates despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new guidance loosening mask rules for vaccinated Americans. AP file photo

Despite President Joe Biden praising the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that eases mask wearing for vaccinated Americans in many settings, Hawaii’s Gov. David Ige said the Aloha State will keep face masks in place for now.

Ige spoke during an afternoon news conference on Oahu to reiterate that the state’s mandate will stay in place as he and county mayors are continuing to review CDC updates.

While declining to give specific benchmarks for relaxing Hawaii’s mask mandates, the governor said the state is striving toward herd immunity. He added that one target is a 70 to 80 percent vaccination rate for eligible residents. Currently, fewer than 50 percent of the state’s eligible population is vaccinated.

In what was being called a milestone day amid the pandemic, the CDC earlier today eased mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.

“Today is a great day for America,” Biden said during a Rose Garden address heralding the new guidance, an event where he and his staff went without masks. Hours earlier in the Oval Office, where Biden was meeting with vaccinated Republican lawmakers, he led the group in removing their masks when the guidance was announced.

“If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask,” he said, summarizing the new guidance and encouraging more Americans to roll up their sleeves. “Get vaccinated — or wear a mask until you do.”

The guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but it will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools and other venues — even removing the need for social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated.

“We have all longed for this moment — when we can get back to some sense of normalcy,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said at an earlier White House briefing.

The CDC and the Biden administration have faced pressure to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated people — those who are two weeks past their last required COVID-19 vaccine dose — in part to highlight the benefits of getting the shot. The country’s aggressive vaccination campaign has paid off: U.S. virus cases are at their lowest rate since September, deaths are at their lowest point since last April and the test positivity rate is at the lowest point since the pandemic began.

Walensky said the long-awaited change is thanks to the millions of people who have gotten vaccinated and is based on the latest science about how well those shots are working.

“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities — large or small — without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” Walensky said. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”

The new guidance is likely to open the door to confusion, since there is no surefire way for businesses or others to distinguish between those who are fully vaccinated and those who are not.

“Millions of Americans are doing the right thing and getting vaccinated, but essential workers are still forced to play mask police for shoppers who are unvaccinated and refuse to follow local COVID safety measures,” said Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. “Are they now supposed to become the vaccination police?”

Walensky and Biden said people who are not fully vaccinated should continue to wear masks indoors.

“We’ve gotten this far — please protect yourself until you get to the finish line,” Biden said, noting that most Americans under 65 are not yet fully vaccinated. He said the government was not going to enforce the mask wearing guidance on those not yet fully vaccinated.

“We’re not going to go out and arrest people,” added Biden, who said he believes the American people want to take care of their neighbors. “If you haven’t been vaccinated, wear your mask for your own protection and the protection of the people who also have not been vaccinated yet.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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