State Rolls Back Some Oahu Restrictions, No Changes Coming For Big Island
Coronavirus restrictions will change in parts of Hawai´i next week, but the Big Island isn’t yet one of them.
Governor David Ige and Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi appeared together at a media session Friday afternoon, Oct. 8 and announced that large events will return to O´ahu next week, with stipulations. Namely, attendees will have to prove they have been vaccinated and wear masks when events are held indoors, and sometimes even when they are outdoors.
The rollback, the first portions of which go into effect on Oct. 13, will allow for a crowd of up to 1,000 spectators to return to University of Hawai´i Football games, though masks will be required, food will not be served, and children under the age of 12 will not be allowed — at least at for the first game back on Saturday, Oct. 23.
What the rollback won’t do is result in any changes to statewide mandates or have any impact on the Big Island.
“I want to be very clear, the statewide mask mandate indoors remains,” Ige said. “We must still be cautious and adhere to social gathering limits of not more than 10 indoors and 25 outdoors. We are still requiring state and county workers, and anyone entering state facilities, to be fully vaccinated or tested regularly. And the Safe Travels Program continues in place.”
Mayor Mitch Roth cleared the way Monday, Oct. 3 for applications that might allow groups larger than 25 at outdoor sporting events, which could result in the return of spectators to some venues, by offering proof that effective COVID-19 mitigation protocol can be created and enforced.
The State Department of Education (DOE) is responsible for COVID-19 restrictions at high school sporting events. Ige said he will be meeting with DOE officials next week regarding the topic.
The governor added that he met with Neighbor Island mayors Friday to discuss relaxing restrictions, and that he does anticipate rollbacks occurring in the days to come.
“Besides the O´ahu order, I will be signing orders for Maui and Kaua´i as well, and we are in discussions with Mayor Roth,” Ige added. He did not elaborate on the details of those discussions.
State and health officials justified the policy changes coming to Honolulu County by pointing out declining trends in daily case counts and a lessening demand on Hawai´i’s limited healthcare resources.
According to data provided by the State Department of Health, a total of 69.3% of Hawai´i’s population is fully vaccinated and 77.5% have initiated the process. Blangiardi said Friday that 93% of the state’s eligible population (older than the age of 12) is vaccinated.
Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawai´i, said the state brought in more than 700 outside healthcare workers to manage the Delta variant surge, which was at its worst during the months of August and September.
Also, the state of California provided Hawai´i with extra oxygen resources, and several healthcare facilities throughout the islands constructed tent expansions to deal with patient overflow.
Raethel added that as of Friday, 143 COVID-positive patients were hospitalized across the state, 45 were residing in an intensive care unit (ICU), and 31 were on ventilators. Those are decreases of 67%, 55% and 64%, respectively, from peak numbers that occurred in early- to mid-September.
“Given the steady improvement in these numbers over the past three weeks, and the expectation that the numbers will continue to improve, the hospital chief executive officers and chief medical officers are reporting that hospital capacity has normalized,” Raethel said. “Hospitals are still busy, but we’ve reached a point where hospital census should no longer be a leading indicator of the need for restrictions.”
“Hospital leadership believe it is time for state leaders to consider steps to open up safely for business.”
The rest of the COVID protocols changed or altered for Honolulu County are specific to venues and the nature of events themselves.
Weddings will be allowed, but must be held outdoors. Weddings and funerals will be allowed to serve food, though large sporting events will not be. Blangiardi said the difference in policy is tied to a desire to keep personal events as close to normal as possible.
Golf tournaments, as well as triathlons and other outdoor races, will be allowed, but will require all participants and spectators to be vaccinated.
Indoor events will be allowed beginning Oct. 20, with crowds of up to 500 people or 50% of the venue’s maximum capacity, whichever is less. Proof of vaccination and wearing face coverings while in attendence will remain mandates.
“Perhaps, let’s just say it, we’re being overly cautious,” Blangiardi said of O´ahu’s approach to easing restrictions. “It has a lot to do with what we’ve experienced over the last 60 days.”
“I think this is just the beginning.”