Green: Most mandates may be lifted soon; county rules should be consistent
February 16, 2022, 4:14 PM HST
* Updated February 16, 7:45 PM
Lt. Gov. Josh Green told Maui Now in an exclusive interview today that state 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 from Hawaiʻi’s peak, Green said leadership discussions are now centered on allowing the state’s emergency proclamation, which includes the Safe Travels program and other COVID-19 rules, to expire March 25.
Maui County and Oʻahu have had the highest case counts and the most severe restrictions in the state, such as requiring vaccine passports for certain businesses.
“Provided that we’re in a good place and we continue to get better week over week, that’s when I think all restrictions could go away with the exception possibly of indoor mask-wearing for those who are unvaccinated,” Green said earlier today. “That will likely remain a recommendation, but we will have to see because almost every other state in the country has already scheduled the end of that restriction.”
Maui County Managing Director Sandy Baz, meanwhile, said the Safe Travels program may be eliminated in the next month or two, adding that nothing has been set in stone. Mayor Michael Victorino is traveling, a county spokesman said.
“We’re in regular communication with the governor, the Department of Health and other counties regarding Safe Travels, as well as 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 to and including the elimination of the Safe Travels program.”
He added that the governor is anticipated to make an announcement soon.
When asked which restrictions would be lifted in the near future, Green said most leaders are on the same page about allowing the emergency proclamation to expire. Hawaiʻi has the second lowest mortality rate and second lowest case rate in the country, but it will be the only state left with significant restrictions in coming months if rules aren’t relaxed, he added.
“Because of the end of the emergency proclamation and because numbers are so much lower, it appears that the hospitals, the leadership and everyone seems to be leaning that direction, but we’ll still be careful that we don’t take any unnecessary risk,” said Lt. Gov. Green.
Maui County and Oʻahu have had the highest case counts and the most severe restrictions, which include vaccine passports for restaurants, bars and gyms. Recently, Maui County had a booster mandate in place that surpassed state and federal definitions of “fully vaccinated.” Pointing to a drop in cases, Victorino after two weeks eliminated the rule Feb. 7.
In general, Green said that guidance is easier to communicate when it’s consistent across all counties.
“I appreciate that each county’s different — as a Neighbor Island guy myself, where we had healthcare shortages or smaller facilities, we had to be mindful,” he said. “Overall it’s better to have a consistent statewide policy because it’s easier to convey. We get better participation and less confusion from visitors.”
“And it’s the confusion that costs us because then people don’t know whether they should, or shouldn’t be wearing a mask or they should, or shouldn’t be tested,” he added. “It’s better to simplify these processes to get a better result. So I would prefer a statewide plan with the input of all of the mayors.”
The lieutenant governor, who is also a medical doctor, said he will continue to monitor cases and hospitalizations regardless of the mandates in place.
At the peak of the COVID-19 surge, there were 56 people in Maui Memorial Medical Center, the county’s only acute-care hospital. Today, Maui County is down to 18 hospitalizations, which reflects people getting boosted and the omicron-driven surge burning out, according to Green.
Green recently announced his intent to run for governor. Former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and former first lady Vicky Cayetano are also running. U.S. Rep. Kaialiʻi Kahele told Pacific Media Group that he is seriously considering a bid for governor.
After restricting most travel at the onset of the pandemic, the state reopened to tourism Oct. 15, 2020, via the Safe Travels program that lets arrivals bypass quarantine by following testing or other rules. Maui County quickly saw a resurgence in arrivals and continues to attract among the highest domestic visitor counts in the state.
All the while, residents have pointed to perceived contradictions when it comes to COVID-19 rules as the state remained open to visitors while restricting social gathering sizes, small business capacities and sporting event attendance during surges.