More Destinations Announce Changes to COVID Restrictions

More Destinations Announce Changes to COVID Restrictions

By:Rich Luna
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And then there were none.

Hawaii became the final state to drops its mask mandate when Gov. David Ige said the mask rules, travel quarantine and Safe Travels Hawaii program will end March 25, welcome news for meeting professionals that mask mandates have ended in all 50 states.

“I do believe that we are the last community to release the mask mandate because we care about each other and we care about our community and we are all willing to sacrifice to keep each other healthy and safe,” said Ige, who has just recently announced visitors from domestic points will no longer need to show proof of vaccination or a pre-travel negative test result to skip a mandatory five-day quarantine. “It’s taken the entire community to get to this point. If we see another surge, we will be ready to reinstitute the mask policy, if needed.”

Puerto Rico also is dropping nearly all travel-related COVID-19 restrictions for domestic travelers from the U.S.  Domestic visitors from the U.S. will no longer need to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to enter while masks will no longer be required in indoor or outdoor venues.

There are protocols that do remain in place for wearing masks. The Transportation Security Administration extended the mandate for mask use on public transportation, including airlines, and in transportation hubs through April 18. The mandate had been set to expire on March 18. Face masks are still required in hospitals, senior citizen centers, health care facilities, schools or other locations as determined by local governments and entities. In many locales, private businesses can enforce protocols.

The CDC reported that more than 90 percent of the U.S. population lives in areas where masks are no longer needed and with more than 65% of people in the U.S. vaccinated (and more than 57% in Europe), mask mandates and other certain protocols are ending.

The news out of Hawaii comes after officials from Boston and New York to California announced mask mandates are going away or proof of vaccination will no longer be required.

In Boston, the public health commission lifted the city’s indoor mask mandate on March 5, with residents and visitors no longer required to wear a face covering in indoor public spaces.

“Based on the data we have seen over the past weeks, we can remove some of the prevention and mitigation strategies that have been necessary to protect residents,” said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, Commissioner of Public Health and Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “I am optimistic about where our city is headed, and the Commission will continue to monitor our key metrics and adjust our policies accordingly.”

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said masks will no longer be required indoors effective immediately, and beginning March 11, masks requirements will go away for the state’s schools and childcare centers. The state has previously ended the indoor masking requirement for vaccinated people last month.

“California continues to adjust our policies based on the latest data and science, applying what we’ve learned over the past two years to guide our response to the pandemic,” Newsom said in a statement. “Masks are an effective tool to minimize spread of the virus and future variants, especially when transmission rates are high. We cannot predict the future of the virus, but we are better prepared for it and will continue to take measures rooted in science to keep California moving forward.”

New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced mask mandates, which require vaccination for customers of indoor venues including restaurants, fitness facilities, and cultural and entertainment spaces, were lifted on March 7. “We are bringing tourism back, we are bringing our economy back, it’s good to be back,” he said. 

Two other states, Washington and Oregon, also announced mask mandates would end on March 11. The news comes just a few weeks after Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser announced she would not extend the indoor mask mandate past the end of February.

The news is a positive sign for the meeting industry as hotels and resorts push to offer options for meeting planners and groups. ALHI properties, for example, are ramping efforts to fill available space in the second quarter of this year to satisfy pent-up demand. One recent survey showed that 80% percent of respondents will hold their next in-person meeting in the first half of 2022, with 34% percent of those saying they will meet in the second quarter.