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From the governor: Good news, caution and hope

Posted on Mar 29, 2022 in Capitol Connection, Featured, Main

After two years of anxiety, Hawai‘i is entering a new phase of the pandemic with some measure of hope. COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations are down and vaccinations are up. The governor has lifted the statewide indoor mask requirement and ended the Safe Travels Hawai‘i requirements for domestic travelers. And just in time for April’s Earth Month came the stunning announcement that the U.S. Navy will defuel and permanently close the Red Hill storage facility.

Governor and Mrs. Ige thanked the Hawai‘i National Guard for their service during the state’s COVID-19 response and through other state crises.

Governor and Mrs. Ige thanked the Hawai‘i National Guard for their service during the state’s COVID-19 response and through other state crises.

Q: Why did you decide to delay ending the indoor mask requirement?

A: My biggest concern from a public health perspective was that if we lifted mask restrictions too early while there was still a lot of virus circulating in our communities, it could trigger a surge really quickly. The counties were dropping some of their requirements, and we anticipated spring break might result in a rise in cases. That’s why we wanted to maintain the requirement to March 25. Many in our community understand that masks provide protection and are willing to wear them, even when it’s not required.

Q: Why do you feel public school students should continue to wear their masks indoors, as well as those in congregate settings?

A: It still makes sense for students to wear their masks indoors, especially because vaccination rates among young children are not as high as we would like. However, wearing masks outdoors will be optional at the public schools. The Department of Health recommends masking for anyone who is indoors with people whose vaccination status is unknown, as well as those in congregate settings.

Q: What do you foresee in this next phase of “living with COVID”?

A: We’re going to transition to more normal distribution of tests and vaccines through physicians, clinics and pharmacies. It will be a mix of continuing safe protocols and people taking personal responsibility, depending on their risk level. The state Department of Health is still monitoring for variants and doing surveillance testing and targeted contact tracing for unusual case clusters.

Ukrainian flags at the Capitol.

Ukrainian flags at the Capitol.

Q: What did Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin say to you about the decision to close Red Hill?

A: When I took the call on March 7, I was expecting a very different conversation, especially because of the conflict in Ukraine. Then Secretary Austin said he had decided to defuel and decommission the facility. He said threatening the aquifer was not something they wanted to do, and he said they were committed to cleaning up the situation. Militarily, he said it was important to have a more distributed fuel storage system. As for the Navy’s plans to safely defuel Red Hill, we need to make sure their actions match their words.

Q: What do you think the impact of Russian sanctions will be on the state’s gas prices?

A: We’ll have to be prepared for some increases because we did get about 25 percent of our crude oil from Russia. Par Hawai‘i has told us they’re working to get oil from other sources. As for the war in Ukraine, I don’t know how Putin can justify his invasion of another country, and it’s heartbreaking to see the Russians targeting civilian populations, schools and hospitals.

Q: What is your message to the community for Earth Day 2022?

A: I’m proud Hawai‘i is leading by example to slow global warming. Our state has committed to more high-impact actions on climate change than any other community nationwide. The conflict in Ukraine and the U.S. ban on fossil fuel imports from Russia is a reminder for the long-term about the need to transition to renewable energy sources, but we know rising gas and utility prices affect everyone.

Read more in the April Capitol Connection newsletter.

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