Lee Cataluna: Gov. Ige's Stubborn Mask Mandate Makes Sense - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org


The excitement lasted only a few hours. At first, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that people who have been vaccinated for COVID-19 no longer needed to wear masks indoors. The reaction was visceral, emotional, like the thrill of hearing the recess bell ring after a long morning of fourth grade math. Finally, finally, it was over.

Later in the day, Hawaii Gov. David Ige pooped the party. Ige announced last Thursday that Hawaii would keep the mask mandate despite the CDC’s new guidance

Was it another paternalistic, tone-deaf move by an unpopular governor who doesn’t even pretend to care about being popular anymore? Or was Ige the voice of reason?

The next day, Ige was interviewed live by CNN’s Jake Tapper.

It could have been so brutal. Consider the setup: Ige, a leader not known for his communication skills, or really, his leadership skills, was interviewed live by Tapper, a television journalist whose default facial expression always seems to convey that he doesn’t quite believe whatever his guest is saying. 

Ige, however, managed to sell the continuation of Hawaii’s mask mandate as sensible.

“The reality is, here in the islands, the majority of our residents are not vaccinated. We’re doing very well with vaccinations, but as we speak, just under 69% of our community is still not fully vaccinated. We do know that the best, most effective mask mandate is when everyone is wearing a mask, and because we can’t identify those who are vaccinated from those who are not, I just felt that it was appropriate that we continue the mask mandate at this time. We’ll be evaluating the news from the CDC and making adjustments that make sense.”

True to form, Tapper wasn’t buying it.

“But you understand, governor, that I’m vaccinated. I’m fully vaccinated. If I’m in a room full of other fully vaccinated people, the CDC says we do not need to wear masks. So I guess the first question I have for you is whatever happened to following the science?”

Ige responded that indeed, Hawaii is following “the science,” and that the science says there aren’t yet enough people in Hawaii who have been vaccinated. Soon, but not now.

“From a public policy perspective, we did learn, especially when it comes to the mask mandate, that simpler is better, and having all kinds of carve-outs and other kinds of situations where someone doesn’t have to wear a mask really makes it impossible to enforce any kind of mask mandate,” Ige said.

Tapper came back at him:

“But aren’t you disincentivizing getting a vaccine? The people who are vaccinated do not benefit from the fact that they are vaccinated other than the fact that they have a much higher likelihood of surviving this pandemic. You’re taking away the reward, or at least not allowing people to have the reward that they deserve for getting vaccinated.”

CNN host Jake Tapper, left, interviews Hawaii Gov. David Ige on Friday about his decision to maintain the mask mandate despite new CDC guidance. Screenshot/2021

At that point, Tapper became the voice of the complainer and Ige somehow morphed into the sensible, calm leader calling for just a bit more patience to really see the problem through. He survived Tapper’s attack. He made sense and sounded competent. Seriously. It happened.

Ige spoke of a target of 70% to 80% of Hawaii residents fully vaccinated before he would make changes to the mask mandate. Other changes that are moving Hawaii closer to a new normal are already in the works.

As maddening as it is to have to follow Ige instead of the CDC, and as hard as it is to think in one moment, masks were over only to be pulled back just a short time later, wearing masks for a bit longer is probably the smart thing to do.

“The reality is, here in the islands, the majority of our residents are not vaccinated.” — Gov. David Ige

We’re moving into a new phase of the pandemic, and it requires a big change in thinking. This next step requires that people take personal responsibility for their own health and parents take responsibility for their children’s health. Sounds so simple, and something that Republican firebrands have been (most wrongly) screaming about the whole pandemic year, but now that there are vaccines that work and social distancing procedures that we all understand, the elements are in place for this to actually work. 

Those who don’t want to be vaccinated should assume full responsibility for that choice. Those who can’t be vaccinated because of medical conditions probably need to be careful of how they interact with others, whether the concern is COVID-19 or other contagious conditions. 

But we’ve spent a whole year not thinking that way. It’s been up to politicians, government agencies, medical experts and Lt. Gov. Josh Green to keep us safe.

We need to transition from herd mentality to herd immunity, from expecting leaders and agencies to keep us safe to taking over the job ourselves. Wearing a mask for a few more weeks could give enough time for that big shift in thinking to sink in. 


Read this next:

We Must Continue To Be Vigilant About COVID-19


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About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org


Latest Comments (0)

Once again Lee Cataluna your commentary generated more comments than any other on Civil Beat.  Your timing is right on.  

LindaU · 3 weeks ago

In the absence of term limits,  and based on this one decision, I would vote for Ige once again!CDC blundered again. It was more a internal power grab based decision. Tapper didn't bother to listed to his own network chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta who said:

HiSurf · 3 weeks ago

"as we speak, just under 69% of our community is still not fully vaccinated." The New York Times reported as of May 19 that 45% of our people are fully vaccinated.  That means 55% are not fully vaccinated, not the 69% Governor Ige states."because we can’t identify those who are vaccinated from those who are not, I just felt that it was appropriate that we continue the mask mandate at this time."Governor Ige, unless people who are vaccinated wear a blinking red light on their head, you will never know who is or isn't vaccinated.  Does that mean the mask mandate is permanent?

Hoku · 3 weeks ago

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