Hawaii students, teachers will likely have to wear masks in classrooms despite relaxed CDC guidelines


HONOLULU (KHON2) — New CDC guidelines suggest fully vaccinated teachers and students do not need to wear masks in the classroom, but that probably will not happen in Hawaii when kids head back to school.

The Department of Education (DOE) is counting on the Department of Health (DOH) for recommendations. Officials there said they could let vaccinated students go without masks indoors but they acknowledge it would be very difficult to implement.

“I think it’s gonna be a real challenge for schools to say you’re going to wear a mask, you’re not. So schools are going to need to think that through,” said Dr. Sarah Kemble, acting state epidemiologist.

With children under 12 years old still not eligible for vaccination, Dr. Kemble said it is important to keep the younger children protected and to be able to follow rules that can be enforced.

“My sense is for most settings, it’s going to be most practical to stick to indoor masking and outdoor masking only in situations where you were going to have prolonged close contact with others or very crowded settings,” said Dr. Kemble.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) agreed but is also raising concerns about what options students will have if parents still are not comfortable with their kids being in the classrooms.

A spokeswoman for DOE sent a statement saying, “Schools are not restricted in offering a remote option… families can check with their schools on possible options.” The union pointed out there were problems with how remote learning was done in 2020.

“We don’t want a repeat of last year with the Acellus program. We would love it if we could have dedicated teachers from Hawaii teaching,” said Osa Tui, HSTA president.

As for private schools, the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools said it plans to recommend students and teachers to wear masks both inside and outside.

The CDC also said that social distancing is not necessary. The DOH said other measures can be taken and HSTA says teachers will play an important role in implementing them.

“We’ve seen over the past year that making sure kids are washing their hands and they’re wearing their masks can help alleviate a lot of the issues,” said Tui.

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