Why Hawaii and Two Other States are Still Wearing Masks?

By: Lokelani Wilder

             Why are California, New York, and Hawaii still wearing masks when the rest of the country is lifting their mandates?  First, let’s take a look at New York and California because both Governor Andrew Cuomo and Governor Gavin Newsom are facing political scandals that could wreck their political futures.  

New York

Governor Cuomo (New York) is currently being investigated for sexual harassment, sexual assault, and deliberately concealing and down playing the number of nursing home Coronavirus deaths.  While the investigations are ongoing, there have been calls for his resignation and impeachment from both Republicans and Democrats.   Despite earlier having been recognized for his pandemic disaster leadership, Cuomo’s state actually has the highest Coronavirus deaths-to-population ratio in the country at 239 deaths per 100,000 people.  More than 52,000 people have died from Coronavirus in New York.  This is the second highest number of deaths amongst the 50 states.  By population, New York is the fourth most populated.   Cuomo has attempted to lessen the mask mandate in the past several times.  Each time, he had to tighten the restrictions to reverse the surge.  Vaccination wise, New York is doing quite well.  41 percent of New York’s population is fully vaccinated.  His state is not a battleground.  It is safely Democrat.  He does not have to play favorites with Congressional and White House Democrats in an attempt to get more Rescue Plan Act, Jobs Act, and Families Act related funding. In 2019, New York was the seventh largest economy in the world.  New York as a nation-state is economically capable of self-recovery to a great extent.  Cuomo also knows that the number of friends that he once had in Washington DC are far fewer now than they were one year ago before the scandals arose.  Cuomo simply cannot afford another scandal so he is playing his remaining cards very cautiously in an attempt to politically survive – and he may not survive given the seriousness of the accusations.

California

Governor Gavin Newsom is in a similar predicament as Andrew Cuomo.  Gavin Newsome is facing a recall-vote but not for concealment of deaths or misconduct.   Organizers in the effort to recall Newsom say government overreach has led to dissatisfaction with his leadership. They cite his executive order to phase out gasoline-powered cars by 2035 and rolling power outages to prevent wildfires, among other issues. They also cite a number of issues surrounding his handling of the Coronavirus.  California is not only the Union’s most populated state but it also has the nation’s most Coronavirus deaths at 61,400.  California’s deaths-to-population ratio is actually less than one-half that of New York’s ratio.  California’s ratio is 125 deaths per 100,000 people.  Currently about 37 percent of California is fully vaccinated.  Like New York, California is also safely Democratic.  Newsome does not need to play favorites with Washington DC especially when national party leaders are also from the state and have a vested interest.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris are both from California.  Compared with Cuomo, Newsom has not been as visible nor as vocal.  During the Trump Administration, Newsom was quietly credited with cooperation which probably lost him some party friends who wanted him to be more vocal to help win the 2020 national election.  Newsom also leads a state having an economy that in 2019 was the fifth largest economy in the world.  California, as a country in 2019, would be more economically powerful than India – a country of 1.4 billion people.   Because California is safely Democratic and is essentially a nation-state that can economically take care of itself in most cases, Newsom does not feel pressured to relax the mask mandate to curry favor.  The bottom-line for him is that he is facing a political crisis and cannot afford for his state to lose Coronavirus recovery progress. 

Hawaii

Finally, we come to Hawaii, led by Governor David Ige.   Hawaii is the nation’s 40th largest state in terms of population.  It is also the most isolated population center on Earth located just about seven sailing days away from the U.S. mainland.  It is the widest east-to-west state in the Union.  You cannot drive from end to end.  It is difficult to reach every citizen during a crisis because of air and sea travel necessities.  Unlike California and New York who have top 10 economies in the world, Hawaii ranks at 101st, comparable with Kenya, Angola, and Ethiopia.  Hawaii’s economy is utterly dependent on federal funding and tourism, the latter of which was hit very hard during the pandemic, so hard in fact that Hawaii was once facing a $2.4 billion revenue shortfall.  In 2014, Ige assumed a budget that was $660 million short.  After the infusions of CARES and Rescue Acts funding, that delta is now projected to be $880 million without adding the $3.5 billion Honolulu Rail Transit (HRT) shortage.  Hawaii must curry favor with national Democratic leaders because the state is dependent on federal funds.  Despite being the state having the most unionized workers, Hawaii worked hard to reopen schools shortly after Joe Biden’s inauguration and this reopening despite the lack of vaccinations.  Vaccinations wise, Hawaii leads the nation with 42 percent of the population being fully vaccinated. Only Vermont has a lower deaths-to-population ratio than Hawaii who stands at 30 deaths per 100,000 people.  Unlike New York and California that initially lacked capacity and technology to treat their large populations during the pandemic, Hawaii had both.  What Hawaii did not have that the other two states do have are resident skilled nurses.  Hawaii has been historically dependent on travelling nurses to augment hospitals during cold and flu seasons.  During the pandemic, this dependency was made even worse when the average nurse could no longer provide care for an average five patients.  More off island augments were required.  The state pays for these augments and they are costly.  Additionally, the state’s small population and isolation also plays a key factor in Ige’s decision making.  Hawaii ordered 23 additional ventilators in April 2020; only to receive the last ventilator shipment in February 2021 – 10 months later.  Hawaii is not a priority to the extents of New York, California, and the big battleground states.