Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Governor Ige Reinstates Social Gathering Restrictions Across Hawai´i

By Max Dible
August 10, 2021, 3:27 PM HST
* Updated August 10, 3:47 PM
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Governor David Ige on Tuesday announced an executive order that immediately reinstates several coronavirus-related restrictions throughout Hawai´i.

The order resets social gathering limits in all settings to 10 individuals indoors and 25 outdoors. For high-risk settings, such as restaurants, bars, gyms and other social establishments, maximum capacity has been reduced to 50%. All patrons of such settings are mandated to maintain six feet of social distancing absent mingling, and must wear face coverings at all times, even when seated, if not actively eating or drinking.

Furthermore, professional events planned to accommodate more than 50 individuals, such as weddings, conventions, concerts, etc., must submit virus-mitigation protocol to the relevant county agencies for a sign-off in order to host those events legally.

“We are seeing widespread community transmission,” Ige said. “We need to take action, and we need to take action now. We need to minimize person-to-person contact in order to reduce transmission.”

The governor added he believes mandates will need to be in place for four to six weeks before Hawai´i might track any statistically significant benefit from them. He said he hoped to roll back the reinstituted regulations on social gatherings before then.

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Ige also said that it will likely be six or seven weeks before the islands see the benefits of increased interest in vaccinations, which are ticking up amid an unprecedented surge of infections. Currently, 60.9% of Hawai´i’s population is fully vaccinated, while 68.4% have received at least one dose.

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Not impacted by the governor’s restrictions are the state’s Safe Travels Program or the administration’s commitment to continuing full in-person learning at public schools across all counties.

“We won’t be making any specific changes to the Safe Travels Program,” Ige said.

Currently, tens of thousands of visitors are pouring into the Hawaiian Islands each day. However, Ige said Department of Health (DOH) statistics show that because of vaccine and/or testing requirements still in place (those who can not prove they have been vaccinated must produce a negative test within 72 hours of travel), mainland and international arrivals to Hawai´i are only accounting for 1-2% of new cases.

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The governor went on to say that travel-related cases of all types account for between just 15-20% of new infections, mostly from Hawai´i residents traveling to the mainland and returning with the virus, subsequently spreading it throughout their communities.

As to public school settings, where more than 150,000 students returned last week, Ige continued to offer the administration’s stock answer to why the classrooms will remain in-person and open — that the “benefits outweigh the risks.”

Hawai´i put in place a layered system of safety protocols that involves mask wearing and promoting hand hygiene as well as staying home when sick as a plan to limit spread, noting that epidemiologists with the DOH will work closely with Department of Education officials to investigate new cases, identify potential spreader events, then contact and test those students and faculty potentially affected as quickly as possible.

He also noted mitigation measures against community spread already in place, such as the ultimatum issued to athletes and adults who want to participate in school-sponsored sports that they will have to be vaccinated or forfeit the privilege this season, save for those granted religious and medical exemptions. The announcement sparked protests statewide over the weekend.

The state and counties also implemented a vaccination mandate last week for all of their employees, meaning they must either prove they have been vaccinated or submit to once weekly COVID-19 testing. Failure to do both could result in termination of employment.

Enforcement Could Prove an Issue

The governor issuing his executive order to reimplement social gathering restrictions is one thing. Enforcing it is something else entirely.

Ige said the renewed priority of limiting community transmission of coronavirus will result in a concerted effort by state and local agencies to enforce the new rules, lest his order become merely a list of suggestions to citizens still willing to take the pandemic, and its very real threat to public health, seriously.

“We have been pretty aggressive in enforcing and prosecuting those violators that we’ve become aware of,” Ige said of pandemic eras past, during which strict quarantine and lockdown mandates were in place. “We have pursued quarantine violations. We do have a case where we had travelers forging vaccination records that we’ve filed charges against and certainly will prosecute to the fullest extend of the law.”

“Our police departments in every county are short-staffed and unable to fully police … and respond to every single violation that is seen,” the governor continued. “But I do believe that collectively, we are going to make an effort to enforce (these mandates). We do know it is important that these restrictions be implemented to slow spread of the virus.”

Hawai´i County Mayor Mitch Roth echoed those comments, adding that Big Island authorities are ready to recommit themselves to the COVID-19 enforcement effort.

“Up until the last couple weeks, we weren’t seeing what we’re seeing now, with hospitals being overrun (by the sick),” Roth said. “We’ll be meeting with police and the (Prosecutor’s Office) to make sure we take this a lot more seriously as we move forward. “

“All of our hospitals are at capacity, some of our hospitals are over capacity,” the mayor continued. “That makes it dangerous, not only for people with COVID, but for people like me who had a heart attack earlier this year.”

Mayor of Honolulu County, Rick Blangiardi, assumed something of a different view of the enforcement issue, saying that while it is crucial, public and social responsibility among Hawai´i’s various communities are the real keys to making regulations effective. Otherwise, he said, the economic hardships that have worn heavily on much of the state’s business community will not be appropriately alleviated.

Part of the effort will land on those in the business community to do their best to enforce the mandates, such as they are. But ultimately, it will fall to the patrons, to the people.

“It’s tough to figure out who is vaccinated and who isn’t,” Blangiardi said. “It’s more about behaviors rather than enforcement, what we owe to each other.”

“We’re in a very different place than we were a few weeks ago.”

Ige Invokes Dangers of Community Transmission as Justification

The governor used the context of an unprecedented surge of coronavirus cases across all Hawaiian Islands as the backdrop for his executive order Tuesday.

Hawai´i for the first time on Monday, Aug. 9 crossed the threshold of 500 new cases per day, a figure calculated based on a seven-day statewide average of reported cases.

In July, case counts doubled every 7-10 days. Last week, record daily highs of more than 600 newly identified infections were reported on multiple days. The test positivity rate statewide is now 7.25% and there were 219 individuals hospitalized as a result of coronavirus as of Tuesday, Aug. 10, the overwhelming majority of whom are unvaccinated residents of Hawai´i.

One month ago, the governor said, the seven-day case average was 60 new infections, as opposed to 500. The test positivity rate was 5 percentage points lower than it is now, registering at 2.25%. And there were 48 individuals hospitalized as a result of COVID-19 infection, not well over 200.

The governor is not alone in his assertion that community transmission of the Delta variant is the primary culprit for Hawai´i’s current surge of COVID-19, and reason enough to reinforce coronavirus-related regulations on social behavior.

Lieutenant Governor Josh Green the day before pleaded with Hawai´i residents to get vaccinated.

“I just got off a long ER shift with a lot of sick people on the Big Island with COVID,” Green said in an Instagram video message posted Monday afternoon. “We are going to see more people in the hospital because we have so many more cases.”

“My appeal to you is please get vaccinated. I understand differences in ideology, I respect it, but please get vaccinated so that doesn’t happen,” he continued.

According to the daily message from Hawai´i County Civil Defense released on Tuesday morning, the Big Island has officially reached the “community spread” level of virus infiltration into the residential population. This means that there is a risk of being exposed to the virus anytime an island resident leaves their home. As such, Civil Defense has asked the public to limit excursions outside the home to “essential activity only.”

Regular testing is available throughout August on Tuesdays at the Kona Aquatics Center from 3-6 pm, and Mondays and Thursdays at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo, also from 3-6 p.m.

The DOH, community testing clinics, and pharmacies regularly offer coronavirus vaccinations. Visit the Civil Defense website for a list of all clinics and pharmacies providing vaccinations and testing.

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.
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