Green: Most mandates could soon be lifted; District rules should be consistent
Lt. gov. Josh Green told Maui Now in an exclusive interview today that world leaders are “hopeful and cautiously optimistic” that most COVID-19 restrictions could be lifted by the end of next month.
Citing an 83% drop in cases since Hawaii peaked, Green said leadership discussions are now focused on extending the state’s declaration of emergency, which includes the Safe Travels program and other COVID-19 rules, on March 25 to phase out in March.
Maui County and O’ahu had the highest case counts and the strictest restrictions in the state, such as: B. the requirement for vaccination certificates for certain companies.
“Provided we’re in a good place and getting better week by week, then I think all restrictions could be lifted, with the possible exception of wearing masks indoors for the unvaccinated,” Green said earlier today. “That will likely remain a recommendation, but we’ll have to see because almost every other state in the country has already planned the end of this restriction.”
Maui County executive Sandy Baz, meanwhile, said the Safe Travels program could be scrapped in the next month or two, adding that nothing is set in stone. Mayor Michael Victorino is on the way, a district spokesman said.
“We are in regular communication with the governor, the Department of Health and other counties regarding safe travel and mask and testing requirements,” Baz told Maui Now on Tuesday. “No decisions have been made at this point, but there have been discussions about changes and including the abolition of the Safe Travels program.”
He added that the governor is expected to make an announcement soon.
When asked what restrictions would be lifted in the near future, Green said most leaders were on the same page on phasing out the emergency declaration. Hawaii has the second-lowest death rate and second-lowest case rate in the country, but it will be the only state remaining with significant restrictions in the coming months unless rules are relaxed, he added.
“It is very possible that we can relax all restrictions, with the caveat that wearing masks is the last thing to be dealt with, as masks are central to stopping people from spreading viruses,” said Green. “Due to the end of the emergency declaration and because the numbers are so much lower, the hospitals, leadership and everyone seems to be leaning in that direction, but we will still be careful not to take unnecessary risks.”
Maui County and O’ahu had the highest case numbers and the strictest restrictions, which include vaccination passes for restaurants, bars and gyms. Recently, Maui County enacted a booster mandate that exceeded state and federal definitions of “fully vaccinated.” Noting a drop in cases, Victorino lifted the rule after two weeks on February 7.
In general, Green said guidance is easier to communicate when it’s consistent across counties.
“I guess every county is different – as a neighboring island type ourselves, we had to be careful where we had a lack of health care or smaller facilities,” he said. “Overall, it’s better to have a consistent nationwide policy because it’s easier to communicate. We achieve better participation and less confusion among visitors.”
“And it’s the confusion that’s costing us because then people don’t know if they should wear a mask or not, or if they should be tested or not,” he added. “It is better to simplify these processes to get a better result. So I would prefer a nationwide plan with contributions from all mayors.”
The lieutenant governor, who is also a doctor, said he would continue to oversee cases and hospitalizations regardless of mandates in place.
At the peak of the COVID-19 surge, 56 people were at Maui Memorial Medical Center, the county’s only acute care hospital. Today, Maui County has shrunk to 18 hospital admissions, which Green says indicates people are getting pumped up and the Omicron-driven surge is burning out.
Green recently announced his intention to run for governor. Former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and former First Lady Vicky Cayetano are also running. US Rep. Kaialiʻi Kahele told Pacific Media Group that he was seriously considering running for governor.
After most travel was restricted early in the pandemic, the state reopened to tourism on October 15, 2020 through the Safe Travels program, which allows arrivals to bypass quarantine by following tests or other rules. Maui County quickly saw a resurgence in arrivals and continues to attract one of the highest numbers of native visitors in the state.
Meanwhile, residents have pointed to perceived inconsistencies regarding COVID-19 rules as the state remained open to visitors while restricting the size of social gatherings, small business capacities and attendance at sporting events during the surges.