Denby Fawcett: Farewell To Masks — It's Been A Wild Ride - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views.

On March 26, less than two weeks from now, the state’s indoor mask requirement will be lifted.

Gov. David Ige recently gained national news coverage as the last governor in the United States to drop indoor masking — a rule that’s been in place in Hawaii since April 2020.

Opinion article badgeI admire Ige for sticking to his guns to keep Hawaii’s Covid-19 infection level the second lowest in the country, behind only Vermont, and for now deciding it is safe enough to move forward.

This column is an ode to face masks: to remember how confusing it was when we first started wearing them and yet later, how the cloth and paper face coverings became part of our lives. But to be clear, not a part of everybody’s life.

For some, saying aloha to masking can’t come soon enough, like Chinatown restaurant owner Donald Moriarty who calls Hawaii’s mask requirement “stupid.”

I spoke with Moriarty by phone Friday and he was still upset about having to pay a $3,000 fine in September for refusing to close his Doner Shack restaurant on South Pauahi Street in defiance of a health department order to temporarily close the establishment after health inspectors saw him on two different occasions in January 2021 interacting with customers without wearing a face covering.

At the time, Moriarty took down the health department red placards saying “closed” and kept open to serve his Mediterranean kebabs and shawarma.

He says the Doner Shack now is doing better business than ever with customers who share his belief that wearing masks should be a personal choice, not a government rule.

On his Instagram page, Moriarty jokingly touts his “New Mask/Vaxx Pass Rules 1/6/22,” which says, “For Vaxxed – It is your personal choice to wear a mask or not. However please keep your vaccine cards concealed at ALL times, the open carry of medical information is prohibited in this establishment.”

My brother, Tony Fawcett, an electrical contractor in Kona, has dutifully masked up during the pandemic but he is another resident glad to see the requirement go.

“Sometimes I get waves of claustrophobia in a mask and on humid days my glasses fog up,” he says. “I welcome the end of the rule.”

Other friends are planning how to adapt. Kalei Damon says she will continue wearing a mask indoors at public places like restaurants and auditoriums and when she is with unvaccinated people.

She and her friend Jayna Shanefield are going to Hilo in April to watch their daughters dance in the Merrie Monarch Festival. Both said they would mask whenever they find themselves in crowds. Jayna says she also plans to mask up when she is around school children, some of whom remain unvaccinated.

After the mandate is lifted, the health department recommends that masks continue to be worn indoors at public schools, in prisons, jails and health care facilities.

With the mandate almost over it is interesting to look back to all the crazy things that happened with masks when health officials were trying to get a grip on the pandemic, which many of us in the early days thought would be over in just a few months.

Signs at the Barefoot Beach Cafe on Queen’s Beach in June 2020, reminded visitors of COVID restrictions when outdoor dining resumed after the state’s first stay-at-home order was lifted. Denby Fawcett/Civil Beat/2020

At first masks seemed foreign. I remember during pre-pandemic days thinking tourists from Japan walking around Waikiki with face masks were hypochondriacs, scaredy cats.

Slowly, I stared collecting masks myself, even finding some beautiful homemade masks cast aside on the streets as I walked through our neighborhood. It was confusing about when to wear them.

After forgetting to bring a mask with me to an important event, I kept two or three in my car and a bunch in my purse and another pile by my bed.

I experienced being yelled at as I walked around Diamond Head without a mask on an almost empty street before sunrise.

A group called the Hawaii Quarantine Kapu Breakers took it as its role to patrol Waikiki to remind tourists to wear masks even outside, sometimes getting peppered with hostile f-bombs from visitors.

Dr. Anthony Fauci’s critics still refer to the early days of Covid infection explosion when he advised people not to wear masks.

Fauci explained later he was worried there would not be enough protective gear to protect medical workers treating Covid patients on the front lines.

Also, because medical experts at the time were still learning how the virus spread, he said, “We were not aware that 40 to 45% of people were asymptomatic, nor were we aware that a substantial proportion of people who get infected get infected from people who are without symptoms. That makes it overwhelmingly important for everyone to wear a mask.”

There was also the scramble to make homemade masks when it became difficult to buy medical-grade masks online or in stores.

Home seamstresses were outraged during the April 2020 “stay at home-work at home” order when then Mayor Kirk Caldwell refused to allow fabric stores to stay open as essential businesses.

Caldwell changed his mind after more than 500 home sewers signed a petition saying they needed to buy fabric to make protective masks. He allowed fabric stores to reopen as essential businesses on a limited basis with only two shoppers allowed in a fabric store at one time, with other customers required to order their sewing goods by phone or on the internet and then having to wait to have the fabric brought out to their cars.

Denby Fawcett, Masks
Mask selfies, or “maskies,” became popular during the pandemic. Author Denby Fawcett, her neighbor Wendy Wyckoff and Robin Bartholomew show off their homemade masks in May 2020. Denby Fawcett/Civil Beat/2020

Another crazy mask event was in 2020 when intensive care nurse Josh Massion at Maui Memorial Medical Center was reprimanded by his supervisor and told to stop working after he refused to remove an N95 surgical mask he had brought from home.

At the time, Maui Memorial was issuing surgical masks only to medical personnel who worked directly with Covid patients, not to employees like Massion who treated patients in other parts of the hospital. And it refused to let employees bring cloth or medical-grade masks from home.

Massion was worried after a cluster of 15 people at the hospital became infected with Covid and purchased his own N95 masks on eBay.

On the day he was punished for wearing his own mask, Massion met with the hospital’s human resources representatives who, after four hours, allowed him to return to work wearing his own mask.

The next day Maui Memorial began handing out surgical masks to all its medical workers every day.

More confusion abounded in May 2021 when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that vaccinated people no longer needed to socially distance or wear masks in most indoor and outdoor situations.

I wrote then: “In the blink of an eye we have gone from the days of a vigilante group patrolling in Waikiki and shaming tourists for not wearing masks, to well meaning observers now warning people not to poke fun at fully vaccinated people who are sticking to full-time mask wearing.”

It has been a wild ride.

Now as we are about to be freed from daily masking, many in Hawaii are likely to hang on to their mask collections because the governor says he’s ready to reinstate the indoor masking policy if Covid cases should once again surge.

But if that happens, at least it will be something that is well understood and not as dramatic and confusing as it was two years ago.

And some of us have even learned to respect masks for the protection they offer from catching common colds and seasonal flu and from having to show our emotions on our faces when we don’t feel like it.

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About the Author

Denby Fawcett

Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat’s views.

Latest Comments (0)

My dear Denby: Not Pau Yet.

Patutoru · 1 year ago

Rather than, or in addition to, what would have helped early on was transparent information on who was deemed high risk and those that should take added precautions, including masking every where they go. We knew about the elderly, and they where first in line for vaccinations, but little was said about all the other high risk factors. Instead we where only fed the "pre-existing conditions" label. It would have brought better credibility and maybe compliance to blanket government mandates, like not walking through a park, or sitting on the beach.

wailani1961 · 1 year ago

People who zoomed to work in their pajama bottoms have no business browbeating anyone who works a physical job and struggled to breathe through a sweaty nasty mask. Check your class privilege.

Intelligentsia · 1 year ago

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