Throughout February and March, daily COVID-19 cases in Hawaii have been decreasing steadily. Whereas COVID cases were at several thousand per day in January, they are now down to around a hundred. This decrease in cases came with a series of changes:restrictions to ease and the state’s economy to improve, and the rise of a subvariant known as BA.2.
As COVID cases fell across the state, many restrictions were lifted. On March 26, Hawaii became the last state to lift its indoor mask mandate, with Governor David Ige reasoning that cases have dropped significantly and vaccination is high. However, masks will still be required at many state facilities, such as buses, public schools, airports, and prisons. Businesses can also choose to require their customers to wear masks. The end of the mandate, which had been in effect since April 2020, marks a significant change in state COVID policy. According to Ige, this change is part of an initiative to ”live with the virus”. The governor also simultaneously removed the state’s Safe Travel rules. These required visitors arriving in Hawaii to take a test within 72 hours of departure and monitor themselves, or to quarantine for fourteen days. Other policies, such as vaccine-or-test mandates for businesses, have ended as well. At Kaiser, masks are only required when indoors, as is the case at all public schools.
The drop in COVID cases has also led the state’s economy to begin improving. Businesses no longer need to require customers to wear masks or show proof of vaccination or a negative test. This has led to an uptick in shoppers. Also, as cases drop, people are becoming more comfortable going to certain businesses, such as restaurants. The end of Safe Travels, along with loosened restrictions in other countries, has led to a surge in visitors. This has greatly boosted the tourism and hospitality industry. According to Eugene Tian, the Hawaii State Economist, Hawaii’s economy has recovered 80% of the way to pre-pandemic levels. He expects it to be until 2025 when the economy is back to its former state, explaining that high inflation and a new wave of COVID could stall or even undo the economic recovery.
While cases of the initial Omicron variant, BA.1, dropped, a new subvariant, BA.2, began spreading. BA.2 is a subvariant, meaning it still is considered an Omicron variant, but has small differences to BA.1. BA.2 cases now account for the majority of COVID cases. European countries have already seen a surge in cases from this new subvariant, especially in the United Kingdom. Given that the United States generally lags a few weeks behind Europe when it comes to COVID spreading, many experts are predicting a new increase in cases. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the president, says that certain states have already started to see COVID rise again. However, due to BA.2’s similarity to BA.1, he hopes there is already widespread immunity from previous infections and vaccinations. He also raised the possibility that another round of boosters would be needed as previous immunity wanes, either during the summer or fall. Boosters could eventually shift into a yearly approach, with a round of vaccinations every year similar to the flu.
COVID-19 cases have dropped across the state, causing the end of many restrictions and an economic recovery. Though, with the possibility of a new wave on the horizon, some of these changes may not last for long.