Ige extends COVID restrictions, says no specific metrics on when to drop them

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Gov. David Ige held a news conference on Friday to announce that he’s extending the COVID emergency proclamation until Nov. 30, as part of the state’s delta response.

There are no changes to the statewide mask mandate and Safe Travels program.

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Ige said we’re heading in the right direction but not enough to lift any restrictions. He adds that there aren’t any clear metrics right now that will indicate when restrictions will be dropped.

While the key indicators like the number of daily cases and hospitalizations have dropped dramatically, Ige says there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

“I think it’s really important that we made significant progress in the last several weeks in trending down, but today, as we speak, the 7-day average of new COVID cases is more than 300, which is more than the peak of last summer’s surge,” Ige said. “So the virus activity in our community continues to be high.”

At this point, it’s not clear what the formula will be for him to drop any restrictions. He says he’s been discussing this with other experts in the past four to six weeks.

“The response that I got from the professionals is that they could not see a single metric that would be appropriate to trigger action to either restrict or expand or release restrictions,” said Ige.

So sports fans will not be able to watch any games live any time soon. Ige says any event that draws large crowds is a big risk. He adds that some 650 healthcare professionals from the mainland are still helping out. The health department director also says the state has investigated 46 COVID clusters of nearly 1,300 people. So healthcare workers are still stretched thin.

“Our public healthcare and emergency management brothers and sisters just came through 12 weeks of battle. Please be patient as we allow them to catch their breath,” said Hawaii Department of Health Director Dr. Libby Char.

The Healthcare Association of Hawaii says it supports having a limited number of fans in the stands. But the governor says virus activity remains too high for large events.

“Even if they are vaccinated, we are aware that vaccinated people can be infected,” he said. “They can be asymptomatic, and they can carry the virus.”

Ige says he will continue to work with UH to come up with a plan to get fans in the stands that can be safely implemented.

Ige said the extension of his emergency order includes extending the renewal date for expired driver’s licenses and state IDs, which was set to expire on Monday, Oct. 4. He did not provide the new deadline.

Since the emergency period began in March 2020, the City and County of Honolulu reported fewer than 50,000 driver’s licenses and learner’s permits remain expired.

Ige also announced that employers are not required to pay for COVID testing for workers who choose to undergo testing requirements rather than showing proof of vaccination.

This week, the governor has been meeting with leaders from different industries who have been calling on the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines.

“There is no single metric that our healthcare professionals could identify that would be appropriate to be a trigger for actions to increase or decrease restrictions, or request for additional help,” Ige said on Friday.

Current rules limit events to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors through Oct. 19. The suspension of large gatherings has been in place since Aug. 25 as part of Safe Access Oahu, which Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi later rebranded as the Safe Oahu Response Plan for the extension.

On Thursday, Ige met with Hawaii wedding industry leaders to discuss how they can work with him to allow people to get married and keep everyone safe while restrictions are in place. The wedding industry has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, forcing them to shut down several times since 2020.

“That’s the point of emphasis — it’s really trying to separate professional weddings from a social gathering that’s in somebody’s backyard or at a beach, and that’s kind of what we’re looking at,” said Monty Pereira, who’s on the Small Business Advisory Council. “It’s 10 indoors and 25 outdoors, and that includes vendors, bride, groom, parents, everybody — so it’s not a whole lot.”

Pereira said during the meeting, the governor agreed that there’s a difference between a professionally managed wedding and a social gathering. However, he said it would be difficult to differentiate the two. Lt. Gov. Josh Green hinted that there could be a compromise in two weeks.

On Wednesday, Ige sat down with KHON2 to talk more about restrictions, including the ban on fans at University of Hawaii football games. He’s been questioned on this topic several times but confirmed there will be no fans in the stands for homecoming on Saturday.

When asked why the number of fans was limited to zero when it doesn’t apply to schools, shopping malls, restaurants or any other gathering place, Ige offered this explanation:

“It’s zero because we have more than 250 COVID-positive patients in our hospitals. It’s zero because we have more than 250 patients in the ICUs. We are just under the maximum capacity, and should there be a tragic accident or any of those kinds of things that would happen, we would have to get to the position of rationing care and deciding who would get services and who wouldn’t, which we are all working to avoid.”

Ige on Friday emphasized his concern again that any gathering that attracts hundreds or thousands of people, such as a football game, can become an event that spreads the virus. Even vaccinated people can still catch the virus and be asymptomatic, he added.

Find more COVID-19 news: cases, vaccinations on our Coronavirus News page

The number of positive coronavirus cases and hospitalizations has been down nearly 50% over the past week. On Friday, DOH reported 366 COVID-19 cases and seven deaths, bringing the state total to 79,572 cases. The state stands at 68% of vaccinated residents.

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