HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hawaii is breaking ground in trying to stop the spread of COVID-19. Officials said that it is the first state to track the percentage of residents wearing masks in public.

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Health experts say wearing a mask is one of the most important tools in preventing the spread of COVID-19. So the University of Hawaii and the State Department of Health (DOH) are gathering data to keep the public informed and safer.

For the past three Saturdays, volunteers with the UH School of Nursing have been keeping track of people in shopping areas. Using an app developed by the UH Applied Research Lab, volunteers are able to do it easily and inconspicuously.

“They see someone walk by and they just click on, were they wearing a mask correctly, were they wearing a mask incorrectly or were they not wearing a mask? And they do the next one,” said Dr. Janet Berreman, who is a DOH Kauai District Health Officer.

That county by county information is shared in the DOH dashboard under Prevention and Detection. Berreman said that the percentage applies to people wearing their masks properly.

“So it’s important that it be fully over your nose and under your chin, should fit reasonably snugly,” she said.

Volunteers will be counting every Saturday at least through the end of the year. Berreman said that compiling the data will be useful when children return to school and tourism reopens by helping policymakers respond to the spread of the virus.

“If mask-wearing isn’t being adopted consistently in our communities, that’s an opportunity to make change and to encourage people to make change. That’s certainly less draconian than closing things down or telling people they have to stay at home,” said Berreman.

On the other hand, if certain counties are wearing masks and the infection rates rise, then other measures must be taken. She said that there are also plans to send volunteers to airports and keep track of arriving passengers.

“If we see that mask-wearing there is significantly different than other places, then that could inform our efforts about what kind of signage or outreach do we need to do to travelers,” said Berreman.

She added that letting people see how they are doing will likely encourage more to wear masks out in public.

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