Ige Suggests Many Businesses Close, Says He Will Protect Essential Services

March 17, 2020, 4:15 PM HST (Updated March 17, 2020, 4:57 PM)
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Gov. David Ige.

Gov. David Ige on Tuesday said all bars, clubs and other social gathering establishments across the state “should be closed” due to the potential spread of COVID-19. He also said restaurants should close their dining rooms and focus on delivery and carryout orders.

However, the governor didn’t issue those directives as mandates.

“There is no order at this point … to close, but I believe that most private sector operations are doing so,” Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson said in a teleconference Tuesday. “Government operations are essentially closed, all the (public) schools are in recess (and) some of the cafeterias are still serving food, but it’s a grab-and-go situation.”

Several restaurants and bars in West Hawai‘i have already closed or are taking steps to limit risk to their customers and employees. The Tommy Bahama location in Waikoloa is closed until at least March 30. Sunset Terrace in Keauhou has also closed its doors. Kona Brewing Co. decided to close Tuesday and PapaKona Restaurant and Bar will close Wednesday.

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Original Thai in Kailua-Kona has closed the dining room in its restaurant for the time being but is still offering carryout. Ola Brew in Kailua-Kona remains open but has altered hours, canceled all weekly events and switched from glass mugs to disposable cups.

“We want to keep our customers as safe and healthy as possible,” the brewery said Monday through a spokesperson. “We’re doing everything recommended by the CDC, adjusting our daily operations accordingly and encouraging our guests to do the same. We anticipate we will see increased sales in our grab-n-go products, including canned brews and growler fills.”

Other food and drink establishments are taking measures to create more social distance inside their venues. Umeke’s Fish Market Bar and Grill removed some of the seating inside its location to mitigate any health risks. Magics Beach Grill has done the same thing.

“We pulled eight tables, about 25% of the seating,” owner Mattson Davis said Monday. “(We have) increased sanitation practices, (are implementing) single-use menus and working to roll out online ordering.”

The Planet Fitness location in Kona decided Tuesday to close its doors indefinitely starting Wednesday, March 18. Fitness Forever, also in Kona, had not adjusted hours or days of operation as of Tuesday afternoon.

In his press conference, Gov. Ige stressed the best way to avoid the spread of COVID-19 was to limit social gatherings to 10 people or fewer. He said the state would immediately begin implementing additional measures to mitigate the spread of the virus despite economic consequences.

“We need to take care of our people and communities first,” Ige said. “This will help us deal with the virus first, protect the integrity of our destination and enable us to welcome our visitors back to Hawai‘i soon.”

The governor strongly encouraged incoming visitors to postpone their trips to Hawai‘i for at least 30 days. Beginning Friday, physicians will monitor all passengers disembarking cruise ships, both with thermal and interview screenings. Several cruise companies agreed late last week to a hiatus across the state for at least a month.

Ige also suggested theaters and visitor attractions should close, advised that large worship gatherings be suspended and asked residents not to visit nursing or retirement homes.

The widespread action and recommendations of the state government will not extend to essential services such as utilities, grocery stores and gas stations. Ige said all essential services will be supported by the government to make sure they continue to operate, regardless of public health circumstances, which experts expect to worsen significantly in the coming days and weeks.

“Service disconnections of both residential and commercial customers will be suspended through at least April 17,” Hawai‘i Electric wrote in a press release Tuesday afternoon. “Depending on the situation at that time, the special assistance period may be extended.”

Government protection is also likely to extend beyond the preservation of essential services. Ige said his administration is working to halt evictions for non-payment of rent, working to halt foreclosures and working to ensure employee benefits, even if employees are unable to attend their jobs.

Heads of state departments are currently identifying essential functions. Those employees who serve essential functions will physically come into work, Ige said. Non-essential employees with the capacity will work from home.

“Non-essential workers unable to work remotely will be assigned to be at home,” Ige continued. “They may be reassigned on other work within their job description and classification that could be done via telework.”

The governor also banned all non-essential travel for state workers, including to neighbor islands. Any government employee who travels for work will be subject to a 14-day self-quarantine. These restrictions will not apply to employees at the Department of Education.

Max Dible
Max Dible is a reporter for Big Island Now. He will also serve in a news capacity for Pacific Media Group's Hawai‘i Island family of radio stations. He formerly worked as a community reporter for West Hawai‘i Today in Kailua-Kona from 2016 to 2019. Before that, he was a sports editor, sports reporter and radio talk show personality with the Iowa State Daily and KURE 88.5 FM, respectively, in Ames, Iowa. He's won several regional and national journalism awards, at both the collegiate and professional levels, for breaking news, long-form feature writing and his work as a sports columnist.
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