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Ige against ‘arbitrary’ reopening of schools

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A couple talks together Monday in front of the closed gift shop at the Hilo International Airport.

Gov. David Ige pushed back Monday against proposals to universally reopen Hawaii schools after spring break next month.

Sen. Brian Schatz suggested in an interview last week that it would be “a good goal” for Hawaii to try to reopen in-person learning after spring break ends on March 19. However, Ige said during a livestreamed interview Monday that such a deadline would be hasty.

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“I think that it doesn’t really make sense to set arbitrary deadlines on these things,” Ige said. “Every school is connected to their communities. … Trying to keep people safe does require changing virtually everything that occurs on a school campus.”

Ige said the state will still try to reopen in-person learning before the end of this school year, citing ever-dwindling COVID case numbers across the state. However, he added that, while ensuring the safety of elementary schools is relatively easy — students are largely contained in a single classroom anyway — the more complicated changes required to make middle and high schools COVID-safe are still an obstacle.

Similarly, Ige said there still are no concrete deadlines for changes to the Safe Travels Hawaii program to allow vaccinated travelers to skip quarantine. Even though Lt. Gov. Josh Green said last week that he believes vaccinated essential workers will be allowed to travel to Hawaii without quarantine restrictions by March 1, and all travelers by May 1, Ige again said that proposal is premature.

“Any kind of timeline or deadline premature,” Ige said. “Until we get official designation by the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), we won’t be making changes to the Safe Travels program to reflect vaccinations.”

That said, Ige said the state is looking into changes to the pro

gram that would allow the state to at least track whether incoming travelers have been vaccinated.

The state also quietly introduced a temporary extension to pre-flight testing deadlines last week. Because of the severe winter across much of the continental U.S., travelers will be allowed to submit negative test results from up to four days before arrival.

That extension ends Wednesday.

Ige also was critical of a bill — House Bill 1286 — in the state Legislature that would allow the governor to establish statewide Safe Travels requirements, instead of the variations currently employed by individual counties.

While he didn’t explicitly say that he would veto the bill should it make it through the Legislature, he said the bill operates under an unrealistic view of the situation.

“It’s very difficult to legislate all of the decisions that need to be made, and I think trying to simplify it to say all of the rules should be the same across the state is just not the reality that we face here, especially when dealing with something like COVID-19,” Ige said.

Ige, First Lady Dawn Amano-Ige and about 65 cabinet and staff members received their first COVID-19 vaccination doses on Monday. The governor said he had held off on receiving the vaccination because of the initial shortage in vaccines and the high number of other eligible recipients.

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“I felt there was an urgent need to get nursing home residents, our kupuna 75 years and older, health care professionals, teachers and other essential workers vaccinated first,” Ige said.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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