Hawaii officials are reviewing whether to change local mask mandates after the easing of federal COVID-19 guidelines to suggest that fully vaccinated people may forgo face coverings in most outdoor scenarios.

Hawaii currently requires that people cover their nose and mouth in public and when near people who don’t live with them, according to an emergency proclamation from Gov. David Ige aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been advising Americans to wear masks outdoors if they are within 6 feet of each other, said Tuesday that those who have been fully vaccinated don’t need to wear face coverings unless they’re at crowded events.

Laniakea Beach Kamehameha Highway North Shore Tourists
Fully vaccinated people wouldn’t have to wear masks in many scenarios under new CDC guidance. Kuʻu Kauanoe/Civil Beat/2020

Ige is reviewing the new guidelines with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, the Attorney General’s office, the Department of Health and county mayors, according to spokeswoman Jodi Leong.

“If any adjustments are made to the emergency proclamation as a result of the latest CDC guidelines, the Office of the Governor will make that announcement,” she said.

The new guidance comes as Hawaii continues its COVID-19 vaccine campaign. Nearly four in 10 residents — approximately 37% of the state’s population — are fully vaccinated, according to the Department of Health.

A graphic from the Department of Health shows 37% of Hawaii’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Department of Health

Vaccinated people should still wear masks if they’re in large crowds with strangers, according to the latest update from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And those who have not been vaccinated or only partially vaccinated should still use face coverings.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi also stressed that the statewide mask mandate remained in effect and said he looked forward to working with the governor and other mayors on potential changes.

“A main takeaway is that people who are fully vaccinated are safer and have less risk when doing things like visiting friends and family and participating in outdoor activities without a mask,” Blangiardi said.

“It is a positive step forward and highlights the need for more people, particularly younger people, to get vaccinated so we can move toward a day without restrictions,” he added.

The new recommendation is a significant move and could pave the way to remove restrictions that have been in place for most of last year, although the degree to which state authorities make regulations has varied widely.

Experts with the CDC said they were confident that more people are getting vaccinated and nationally rates of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths have declined. They also said the latest research indicates that less than 10% of documented COVID-19 transmission occurred outside.

A study in Wuhan, China, found just one case of outdoor transmission among more than 7,300 infection events studied.

In Ireland, one in 1,000 COVID-19 infections was linked to outdoor virus transmission.

Another review from the University of Canterbury states outdoor transmission is rare.

Dr. Asim Shah, a professor of community and family medicine and psychiatry at the Baylor College of Medicine told SciLine that the news is a “relief” for people who like to stay active outdoors, but much ambiguity remains about the gathering sizes.

“What the CDC is saying is that a gathering is considered large when you have many people from multiple households in a private or a public setting,” he said.

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