Big Island mayor proposes to expand gatherings, business events

Coronavirus

HILO, Hawaii (KHON2) — The Big Island is looking to loosen COVID-19 restrictions with a new proposal to exempt some business events, but the organizers of the gatherings would need to prove ahead of time that safety measures are in place.

Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth said, he wants to give the island’s businesses a chance to bring back more clients by allowing business events at venues like hotels and restaurants.

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Hawaii County is seeing an average of three new daily cases for the last 14 days with a test positivity rate of 0.5%, according to Health Department data.

Roth said, “We’re looking at what’s happening with our hospitals, looking at the numbers that we’ve had, we’ve been very successful on Hawaii County, of keeping things down.”  

Roth sent a request on Thursday, March 4, to Gov. David Ige to allow the County to increase outdoor social gatherings from 10 to 25 people, with indoor gatherings still limited to 10 people.

He is also asking to exempt group size limits for business events. He said, each event will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine if proper safety measures will be in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“Five-hundred people is probably not going, not going to go over well,” Roth said. “But an event with maybe 70 people, we have a lot of business events. And they’re even less than 50. ” 

Wendy Laros, CEO and President of the Kona-Kahala Chamber of Commerce, said this is great news for resorts that have not been able to utilize the ballrooms or halls in the past year.

“Group business is key to our local economy,” Laros said. “When those groups come in, you know, they don’t only stay at the resort. They go out and they’ll go to restaurants, they’ll do tours, other activities.”   

Not all businesses are for loosening event restrictions, however. Vintage and Lace Weddings owner Rachael Zebrowski is in favor of keeping current restrictions in place for safety reasons.

Zebrowski said, “There will be ample time for events in the future once the vaccine has been more widely administered and risking a potential large outbreak on the islands would be more detrimental to the economy as a whole, long term.”

Mayor Roth said, a request for an event would need to be sent 30 days in advance for the County to verify the safety protocols. Venues would still not be allowed to operate at full capacity.

“We believe that April, things are going to be even better than they are right now,” Roth said. “So with that 30 day window, we want to start allowing businesses to start planning events, but planning to do them in a safe manner as well. ”  

A spokesperson for Gov. David Ige said his office has received the request and is undergoing review by the governor, the attorney general and the Hawaii Emergency Medical Agency.

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