HONOLULU (KHON2) — There are now severe consequences for food establishments that do not take physical distancing and other guidance seriously.
The Hawaii Department of Health’s Food Safety Branch will begin to temporarily suspend the operations of restaurants, bars and other food establishments that do not comply with physical distancing, wearing cloth face masks and other required guidance.
“The department is taking these steps now to enforce preventive measures that are known to be effective in preventing the transmission of the disease, especially as we have seen a recent increase in the number of COVID cases and evidence of community spread,” said Health Director Bruce Anderson. “Most food establishments in Hawaii are conscientious and trying their best to comply with health guidance. Nevertheless, we feel these steps are necessary to assure all restaurants and other food establishments are doing everything they can to protect the health of the public and their employees,” said Anderson.
The State Health Department issued guidance to restaurants, markets, and food manufacturers on reopening in late May 2020 to minimize the risk of exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19 for their employees and customers.
Peter Oshiro, chief of the Department of Health Food Safety Branch, said inspectors will focus on two main things: social distancing and face coverings.
“They have to make sure all their employees, in the front of the house and back of the house now, all must mask up and they must also make sure they’re practicing social distancing,” Oshiro said.
“Those are the two things that are causing the spread of this disease. So we’re going to concentrate on making sure the restaurants are enforcing social distancing when people line up, or are waiting for tables, or even when actually sitting down and dining in an establishment. They have to make sure the tables are six-feet apart or they have to use some type of physical barriers to prevent respiratory droplets from spreading,” Oshiro said.
The strict enforcement also enables the Department of Health to effectively respond to consumer complaints about non-compliant food establishments and enhances the state’s readiness to implement a pre-travel testing program on August 1.
Oshiro said the state received multiple complaints of establishments not following the guidance.
“The main reason why we’re going ahead and doing this is we’re preparing for tourists to come back to the state around August 1, so we want to make sure all of our restaurants and establishments are well aware of what they need to do as far as help prevent the spread of this disease,” explained Oshiro.
Using existing state law Hawaii Administrative Rules, Section §11-50-9(f)(3), Department of Health inspectors can temporarily shut down a food establishment if its practices pose a danger to public health by spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Using the familiar color-coded placard system, the Department of Health will issue red placards to these food establishments.
“As Hawaii reopens and moves toward economic recovery, no one wants to see a restaurant temporarily close and miss out on opportunities to serve customers,” said Oshiro. “We recognize many Hawaii food establishment operators are doing their best to protect the health of their employees and customers, and we need all operators to comply with the guidance and take it seriously. This is a critical time for food establishments to tighten their practices instead of becoming lax,” he said.
Restaurants, and especially bars, have been shown to have a higher transmission of the coronavirus in respiratory droplets because of overcrowding. There is also lower adherence to physical distancing among customers who are inebriated or are engaging in loud talking or shouting in very close proximity to each other because of amplified music or noise.
If physical distancing and mask wearing violations are verified by an inspector during a routine inspection or as a result of a complaint, the following enforcement protocol will be used to encourage compliance:
- First Violation: The Department of Health will issue a written warning and educate the food establishment that it is in violation of the Department of Health’s guidance. The food establishment will be informed that a second violation will result in the issuance of a red placard for creating an imminent health hazard. Unlike the color-coded system for sanitation and safe food-handling compliance, there is no yellow placard.
- Second Violation: The Department of Health will issue a red placard. This will result in the immediate closure of the establishment and a news release will announce the red placard posting. The food establishment may request a re-inspection and review to safely reinstate their operations.
“We’re not out to close people. We’re out to educate them and make sure everyone is doing the right thing prior to our reopening to tourists and the rest of our economy,” explained Oshiro.
“Right now, we’re looking at having them shut down for at least 24 hours, so we’re not going to put them out of business forever. It’s a minimum of 24 hours and we’ll come back and re-inspect,” he continued.
Oshiro said it’s important to do so businesses that do comply can remain open.
“This is something the facilities can control themselves,” he said. “I know it’s difficult to make money when the government is restricting their capacity. But again, we cannot have a recovered economy if people are still getting sick.”
Don Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Bar and Grill, agreed.
“We all have to watch it and what I don’t want to see happen is this thing spikes because nobody is really paying attention and all of a sudden we have another shut down and then we’re going to see restaurants drop like crazy,” he said.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the Honolulu Liquor Commission has also received complaints of bars in violation. He said he will meet with the commissioner to discuss if businesses who do not comply with the rules should have their liquor licenses suspended.
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