HONOLULU (KHON2) — Hawaii’s leading economist says there is a “no-brainer” to avoiding the next surge in COVID-19 cases and ensuing economic downturn: everyone wear a mask in public.

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Dr. Carl Bonham, the Executive Director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, is cautiously optimistic that an economic recovery is underway. That recovery is fragile with the fast-approaching holiday season and massive surge of COVID-19 cases already hitting the United States continent.

“When cases are surging, it’s having an impact on the economy,” Dr. Bonham said.

A University of Washington (UW) study defines 95 percent of public mask wearing as universal. Bonham thinks hitting that number could save the nation’s economy. His recommendation for accomplishing this is implementing a blanket statewide mask mandate.

“This is the no-brainer for trying to avoid the next surge which leads to the next economic slowdown that we can’t afford to have,” said Dr. Bonham.

Current projections from the UW study and the Hawaii Department of Health have Hawaii’s mask-wearing in the 70 to 80 percent range.

In the last two weeks, clusters totaling 16 cases between Hawaii County and the City and County of Honolulu have been traced to gatherings that involved inconsistent use of masks.

In some of these cases, the gatherings involved friends or family members not from the same household.

“Its not just large gatherings, they’re smaller ones where we think we’re safe because we know each other but we know this virus spreads so easily,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

Local leaders call Waikiki another problem area.

“I would say it is best guess fifty-fifty in terms of people wearing masks and not wearing masks,” said Hawaii Pacific Health President & CEO Raymond Vara.

“I walk Waikiki daily, twice sometimes, and let me tell you there’s more local people not wearing masks than the tourists,” added Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association President & CEO Mufi Hannemann.

Dr. Bonham thinks the state needs to change the mask mandate to one simple set of rules for all counties that’s easy for visitors and locals to understand.

“It has to be something that’s very enforceable and very easy,” Bonham said. “That’s why the current system seems problematic where each county has sort of a wide ranging set of rules and they’re kind of hard to understand.”

State Speaker of the House, Scott Saiki, believes Hawaii Governor David Ige must amend an emergency proclamation to enact such a mandate. He says changes to existing penalties for mask-less people could be implemented when Hawaii’s State Legislature reconvenes next year.

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