DOH director meets with Honolulu officials, beach closures could be next

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) – As tens of thousands of tourists would be doing in any other given year, Hawaii Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Anderson set his sights on beaches Monday.

The once-celebrated tradition of large potlucks during summer days in Hawaii has earned scorn as a place of relaxed COVID-19 guidelines and transmission of the pandemic virus.

“In a COVID environment particularly where we are those gatherings are undoubtedly a potential source,” Dr. Anderson said.

Anderson met with City and County of Honolulu staff Monday to discuss mitigation tactics after a record of 207 new cases were announced. Mayor Kirk Caldwell has already voiced his frustration and is trying to outlaw large tents on beaches and in parks.

He told KHON2 News in a statement today:

“Today’s number of new cases speaks for itself. This weekend we saw a gathering of hundreds on the North shore, and all around the island. This can’t continue. Gathering in large groups with no masks or physical distance is the last thing we should be doing right now. Sweeping shutdowns are economically devastating, but so is the uncontrolled spread of this virus. We can’t have a healthy economy if COVID-19 continues to spread widely in our community. We’ll continue to work with the Governor and Department of Health to implement measures to keep large gatherings from happening, and to keep the people of Oahu safe.”

The Waimea Bay gathering was broken up by Honolulu Police, but City Council Member Brandon Elefante thinks further restrictions don’t have to be implemented to stop the spread.

“I think it is possible,” Elefante said. “It all boils down to responsibility for each and every one of us.”

He thinks that law enforcement is being stretched thin, so a different approach is needed.

‘I’ve heard of an out of the box suggestion,” Elefante said. “One was look at Aloha Ambassadors where perhaps businesses or other groups look at having an Aloha Ambassador to remind people of social distancing or mask requirements.”

While it is up to the counties and ultimately Governor Daivd Ige to set the rules, Dr. Anderson did point to the past for an example of something that worked back in March and April when Oahu beaches were mostly off-limits.

“I must say when we did restrict activities we did very well as the rates dropped as you may recall to one or two cases,” Dr. Anderson said.

While he admits that it would be unrealistic to see case numbers at the levels of April and May, he does think that exercise, fishing, and surf activities are crucial to the public.

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