Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Governor to Ease Virus Restrictions, Starting With Restaurants and Bars

By Max Dible
November 23, 2021, 4:07 PM HST
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After nearly two years, Gov. David Ige is easing COVID-19 restrictions throughout the state.

The governor on Tuesday announced that the state will no longer enforce social distancing requirements in restaurants or bars beginning Dec. 1. Capacity requirements had been eased previously, but changes were not feasible as long as six feet of distance was required between all tables. Patrons will also be allowed to mingle with members of other parties while inside restaurants and bars.

These rules could return, or be eased even further, based on the decisions of each individual county, as the governor also noted that he would return autonomy to the counties when it comes to measures related to the virus beginning in December. That autonomy, however, will come with a few notable exceptions. Ige expressly detailed what those exceptions would be, adding that they will be outlined as part of the next statewide emergency proclamation he makes on Nov. 29.

Statewide restrictions that will remain are as follows:

  • The Hawaiʻi Safe Travels Program.
  • The indoor mask mandate.
  • The vaccination or testing requirements for state executive and county employees.
  • The vaccination or testing requirements for contractors and visitors to state facilities.

The counties will no longer be required to obtain the approval of the governor or the director of the Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency (HIEMA) prior to issuing county emergency orders, rules or proclamations. Counties will continue to have direct responsibility for emergency management with their respective islands.

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This marks the return to typical emergency situations, in which the counties are the lead and the state provides guidance and support. Emergencies are usually county-specific and county-led, with the state serving in a supporting role. HIEMA will continue its various support functions, while the state Department of Health will continue to issue public health guidance, Ige said.

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Hawai´i County Mayor Mitch Roth said restrictions on the Big Island will look very different in the days to come, though he was not specific in his comments Tuesday.

“We do intend on making some big changes,” Roth said. “We will have those out in the next couple of days.”

Safe Travels

The governor made it clear that the Safe Travels Hawai´i Program will continue indefinitely.

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There are still close to 400,000 state residents who are not fully vaccinated, though 85.1% of the population has begun the vaccination schedule. National medical experts are predicting a surge in coronavirus cases associated with the holidays, which would affect Hawai´i most through trans-Pacific travel to the islands.

Approximately two-thirds of visitors arriving to Hawai´i are fully vaccinated, according to statistics provided Tuesday, leaving one-third who are not and must either pre-test to enter the state or subject themselves to a mandatory 10-day quarantine. Arrival numbers are increasing, with around 30,000 arrivals per day over the last weekend, including 36,000 on Saturday alone.

Those numbers will spike again when cruise ships return, which could happen as early as January. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) conditional sail order is set to expire on Jan. 15, 2022. The Hawai´i Department of Transportation has said in vague terms that it hopes to allow for the return of cruise ships at some point in January, but has been no more specific than that.

“We will be requiring a memorandum of agreement with all of the cruise lines prior to resumption of cruises to the islands. They are implementing strict standards consistent with CDC guidance,” Ige said. “We are finalizing operating procedures, and then we will be announcing when cruises will begin again.”

Loose Ends

Also part of the governor’s announcement was that the extensions for driver’s license renewals, instruction permits and replacements will end as of Nov. 29.

Consistent with the federal and state implementation of vaccination and testing policies, the state will no longer offer a Critical Infrastructure workers’ exemption to the 10-day travel quarantine. Exemptions for persons who previously tested positive for COVID-19 and other exemptions will continue to be considered, the state said.

Once signed on Nov. 29, the proclamation relating to COVID-19 will continue through Jan. 28, 2022, unless terminated or superseded by a separate proclamation.

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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