Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Hawai‘i County Parks, Beaches to Remain Open as Mayor Kim Creates Cleanliness Task Force

March 18, 2020, 1:19 PM HST
* Updated March 18, 1:26 PM
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Mayor Harry Kim (left) and Gov. David Ige. Courtesy photo

Who ya gonna call?

Hawai‘i County has no plans to close down its public parks and beaches in response to the COVID-19 outbreak across the state, Mayor Harry Kim said Wednesday. But the administration does have designs on a joint task force it’s dubbed Bug Busters, a name inspired by the Ghostbusters film franchise, to hunt down and eliminate sources of potential COVID-19 contamination in public areas.

With public classrooms now closed until at least April 7, Kim said part of his decision to keep county-maintained beaches and parks open came from considering the realities of how kids off school are likely to behave.

“You’re not going to keep teenagers locked up in their houses when their parents are working,” Kim said. “We want them to congregate where it’s monitored and clean.”

The Bug Busters Task Force will be comprised of Parks and Recreation workers as well as employees from the Department of Public Works. Foggers filled with a bleach mixture, and potentially other disinfectants, will be deployed multiple times a day to spray beach and park benches, picnic tables, sidewalks and any other places COVID-19 is likely to congregate. Private beaches will be able to opt-in as part of the program, Kim said.

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Members of the task force will also be present at beaches and parks with hand counters, regulating the number of people who come and go so as to keep crowds to a reasonable size. As to what the allowed numbers will be beach to beach and park to park, how many employees will be diverted to the task force and what the overall cost of the operation will total, Kim said it’s too early in the process to say with accuracy.

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“Whatever we need and whatever we can spare and whatever we can put together,” Kim said of amassing the task force members and their required supplies. “I told them if they request money for 100 pumps or 200 pumps, you’re going to be granted the money to buy that.”

The State Department of Land and Natural Resources released on Tuesday a list of Big Island state parks that are closed indefinitely, which includes Akaka Falls and KĪholo Beach Park and can be accessed here.

Kim said that part of his decision also deals with having some accommodations left for the roughly 8,000 tourists who still visit the Big Island daily. That’s also partially why the county released an advisory statement Wednesday morning telling local bars, restaurants and other social gathering establishments that the choice to close, adjust service or stay open remains, for now, at their discretion.

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Gov. David Ige on Tuesday strongly suggested bars, clubs and other similar establishments close, while restaurants transition to carryout and delivery service only.

“I explained to him we might choose a different option because the necessity of food and feeding tourists is much more difficult here because of the size of the island and the separation of districts,” Mayor Kim said.

Kim added that individual business classification could cause further problems. Many restaurants double as bars, and several bars serve food. Many restaurants, bars and restaurants/bars are also located on hotel or resort property.

“My question is where are they going to eat?” Kim said. “I made the decisions … to provide places to eat for people.”

Several establishments across the Big Island have already chosen to close indefinitely, including Kona Brewing Co., PapaKona Restaurant and Bar, and Sunset Terrace. The county offered direction to those establishments that will keep their doors open for the time being.

“If restaurants, bars, and places of worship decide to remain open, do address how you will minimize risk to your personnel and your customers,” the county wrote in a press release. “This is of assurance of cleanliness of disinfecting and sanitizing your facility and of social distancing.”

Kim said that all county services will continue as planned — a decision he said forming and employing the Bug Buster Task Force should bolster.

Hawai‘i Island is home to 167 medical, home-care and long-term care health facilities. The task force will continue to supplement those facilities with cleanliness policies and supplies, as Kim said the county has already been doing.

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