Big Island Stands Pat as State Mulls Re-Implementing Coronavirus Restrictions

July 29, 2020, 3:46 PM HST (Updated July 29, 2020, 3:46 PM)
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Gov. David Ige said Wednesday he’s in discussions with mayors from all major Hawaiian Islands about re-implementing some social restrictions following the state’s worst virus spike yet. But whatever happens on other islands, Hawai‘i County is likely to remain essentially the same — at least for now.

Big Island Mayor Harry Kim on Wednesday said he’d spoken with the governor on several issues such as shutting down bars, limiting indoor and outdoor gatherings to 10 people, and making face masks mandatory in all public spaces at all times, including those in open-air. But for now, nothing on the Big Island is slated to change.

“All of the changes proposed are just that, proposed,” Kim said. “For right now, there are no immediate plans to change any of the policies.”

The state Department of Health (DOH) reported 109 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, the highest single-day spike in Hawai‘i since the pandemic reached its shores. The tally pushed the seven-day total to nearly 450 cases statewide.

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As a result, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell has proposed closing all O‘ahu bars for three weeks and mandating masks be worn at all times when people are outside their homes. Gov. Ige gave Caldwell the go-ahead Wednesday.

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino has spoken publicly about reinstating the 14-day interisland travel quarantine, which was lifted in mid-June.

However, Kim hasn’t called for similar measures because the Big Island remains relatively unscathed by the recent surge, which has seen more cases of coronavirus hit Hawai‘i in July (958) than in the entirety of the pandemic before that (900).

The Big Island has identified 116 cases of the virus among residents and visitors, including only two in the last week. Currently, there are just two active cases of COVID-19 in the entire county — the lowest such total in Hawai‘i.

Instead of shutting down bars, which were only given the nod to reopen in recent weeks, Kim said the county will work with them, along with restaurants and individuals, to educate on COVID-19 policy and best practices.

The Hawai‘i Fire Department, in conjunction with DOH, has worked with businesses in the community toward this end and will continue to do so, the department said Wednesday.

“I know how fortunate we are that our numbers are low,” Kim said. “We will keep (open) what we have now and hopefully, we’ll get better and maybe open up more later on.”

As to gathering sizes, Kim said the numbers aren’t the primary issue, it’s that people aren’t wearing masks and staying six feet apart from each other as religiously as they should be.

And as to face mask restrictions, the mayor said he’s not sure how to make them any more prohibitive.

“I don’t think we can get any stricter than we are now,” he said.

Face coverings are currently mandatory on Hawai‘i Island “any time you’ll be in contact with other people,” Kim added.

Hawai‘i Island Police Chief Paul Ferreira said his department responds to calls of people violating established COVID-19 protocols when officers are available, as well as if the state has trouble contacting someone who’s supposed to be in quarantine.

At that point, it’s up to the officers’ discretion whether to warn, cite, or even arrest the person or people in question. Typically, the chief said, officers choose to begin with the route of education.

Max Dible
Max Dible is the News Director for both Big Island Now and Kauai Now. He also serves as News Director 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 covering college athletics in 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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