KAHULUI, Hawaii (KHON2) — Governor Ige has approved the temporary closure of all Maui County bars and bar areas within restaurants to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Maui County officials say recent cases have been tied to bar settings.
Maui went from averaging zero to three cases in October to seeing double digit numbers over the last week and a half.
“According to Dr. Pang and the Maui District Health Office, a number of the cases, about 30% to 35% are coming from bar-like behaviors and bar hopping,” said Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino.
The Hawaii Department of Health linked about 30 cases on Maui to five different bar and restaurant clusters in the last week.
“Hopefully this will improve the numbers,” Mayor Victorino said. “This will get people very aware that if this continues and if these high numbers do not start dropping in the next seven to 10 days, then maybe more action is needed.”
Several bar owners say it’s not fair.
Under the new rules, bar tops in restaurants must close as well as bars that do not have kitchens.
Kahale’s Bar in Kihei will be one of the bars that will have to shut down completely.
“This is going to affect six bars, we’re talking six entire establishment on Maui, so I’m not quite sure how that’s going to save anybody or everybody,” explained Kahale’s owner Sumner Stewart. “And those six bars have not had a single COVID case or a COVID cluster, not one of them.”
Kahale’s said they’ve remained at 50% occupancy, only allowing 38 patrons into their bar and hired security on the weekends to make sure it stays that way. Kahale’s even encourages people to sit at a table and have the bartender take orders.
They said they should be able to operate just like restaurants can for the next two weeks.
“All we’re asking for is fairness,” said Kahale’s co-owner Katie Karsten.
“We’ve cut everything down, and we streamlined it all to the fact that we’re just surviving. And then we get cut down at the knees for absolutely no reason,” she continued.
Several Maui restaurants have reported COVID cases over the past several days and voluntarily shut down to clean and disinfect their business.
One restaurant was cited by the Maui Liquor Commission after people were seen not social distancing. The establishment was forced to close for 24 hours.
The president of the Hawaii Bar Owners Association said the state should reconsider the placard system where establishments are given green, yellow, or red placards just like restaurants are.
“That was something that made perfect sense,” said Bill Comerford. “Instead, they just said we’re going to close all bars, and we’re going to make a different definition for what is a bar and what is now a restaurant.”
Bars on Oahu have been closed since July 30, and Comerford said they’ve still had to pay taxes, licenses and fees with zero income.
He said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Mayor-elect Rick Blangiardi should give bars a chance.
“I want to compliment the mayor on Maui because he let bars stay open, and right now he feels there’s a concern and he should have that concern,” Comerford said. “That’s his responsibility, but he should also talk to the bars, talk to the bar owners, and talk to them and see who’s doing it right who’s doing it wrong, and encourage the ones that are doing it right rather than kill them. Don’t kill them all. Because that’s what they’re doing.”
“This is an initial step,” Mayor Victorino said. “We will continue to closely monitor daily case counts, identify sources of spread and take further action as necessary to protect the health and safety of our residents.”
Bar closures are set to go in effect at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 12 and remain in place until Dec. 26. The temporary closure also requires bars with certified commercial kitchens to close off the bar counter area, but they could continue to serve food and alcoholic beverages to patrons.
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