County mayors discuss reopening and answer resident questions

Coronavirus

County mayors had a meeting with Governor David Ige on Thursday afternoon to discuss each county’s re-opening plans and process.

Also, on Thursday, Gov. Ige approved requests from Mayor Harry Kim and Mayor Derek Kawakami to re-open more businesses and operations.

Hawaiʻi County

Gov. Ige signed Mayor Kim’s Emergency Rule #6 which allows the following businesses, operations or activities, which must follow applicable CDC, industry and regulatory guidelines related to COVID-19 prior to opening:

  • May 30, 2020
    • Places of worship
  • June 1, 2020
    • Other indoor gathering places (including bowling alleys, billiards halls, but NOT arcades or gaming places)
    • Indoor exercise facilities (includes fitness centers and indoor pools and facilities that offer group exercises with no physical contact)
    • Museums and theaters
    • Outdoor spaces (includes ocean tours, outside pools and summer camps)
    • Other personal services (includes tattoo operators and acupuncturists)
    • Other real estate services (including open houses, property viewing, inspections, surveys, appraisals with restrictions)
    • Other retail and repair (including rental of recreational and sports equipment)
    • Certain county park sites and recreational facilities will re-open with some exceptions. County swimming pools, gymnasiums and community centers will remain closed at this time.

Kauaʻi County:

Gov. Ige has also approved Mayor Kawakami’s Emergency Rule #11 to re-open with modifications, businesses, operations or activities starting Monday, June 1. They include:

  • Indoor exercise and recreation facilities (including gyms, fitness centers, recreation facilities)
  • Outdoor spaces (including playgrounds, skateparks, pavilions, parks, organized outdoor team sports)
  • Personal services (including spas)
  • Restaurants (including dine-in)

On Thursday, county mayors discussed inter-island travel, re-opening businesses, and answered residents’ questions about bars, pools, and wearing face masks.

Ige said he has been talking with the mayors about re-opening interisland travel, “We’re close and will be making a decision in the next few days.”

He also announced they will extend the 14-day traveler quarantine beyond June 30, 2020.

“We will be extending the quarantine beyond June 30, we talk about that all the time and certainly we’ll be making that announcement soon,” said Ige. “Transpacific travel is a concern, interisland will be different.”

“We’ve been fortunate here in Maui County to have a few cases in the past several weeks,” said Mayor Michael Victorino. “Now, you’re going to travel on planes in close proximity while wearing a mask and that is the new normal.”

He said Lanai and Niihau haven’t had any cases and Molokai has had two.

“They are very cautious, for Molokai, that could have been devastating if we didn’t get in there and start testing the residents of Molokai,” Victorino said.

“I think we have to continue to be proactive with necessary safeguards and make sure checkpoints at the airport are well-staffed and monitor properly to prevent the spread between the islands.”

Mayor Kim said the health and safety of residents comes first, and the economy and tourism industry come after.

“It’s easy to be complacent when things are going good,” he said.

“All five of us from the beginning have the priority of community health first and and second is the economy knowing how important that is too. All of us would agree we’d be a little slower in opening things up then too fast. We know how impatient people are but we have to make sure first that it is safe,” Kim said.

Mayor Kawakami said there isn’t an end date yet on when people will stop wearing face masks and compared wearing a mask and social distancing to turning your back on the ocean.

“This is a new virus, this is something health experts are still learning about,” said Kawakami. “The requirement and the guidelines to use a mask is basic common courtesy and it keeps your germs to yourself so this is what we do now.”

He said the virus is sneaky because it has a long incubation period and many people don’t even know they have it.

“When I was growing up, if we turned our back to the ocean, we would get it from our parents, we would be grounded from going to the beach because it’s when you put your guard down that the ocean and mother nature can be unpredictable. We should utilize this period where it seems safe and to keep our guards up, build muscle memory,” he said.

“Once the quarantine is lifted, we are probably going to see that second wave, whether it’s going to be a small Waikiki wave or an Eddie Aikau, Waimea Bay sized wave is up to us. It’s up to our personal self-governance and self-discipline on how big that wave is going to be.”

“It’s just temporary that’s what I want to remind people that this is all temporary,” he added.

Mayor Kim added they all knew how difficult and tough the decision was going to be when Gov. Ige shut everything down.

“We all knew the tremendous impact that was going to be made when we made the 14-day quarantine rule no matter where you came from and its going to change the world we depend on and the economy,” he said.

Every county except Hawaii County has re-opened its county pools. Mayor Harry Kim said he’s waiting on expert advice about re-opening his pools, for safety reasons, before he sets a date.

While restaurants are slowly re-opening across the state, mayors said re-opening bars is still considered high-risk.

“It is a high-risk activity because the nature of bars doesn’t lend itself to social distancing,” said Kawakami.

“I know there is hardship going on and I can probably speak for everyone hear the situation we’re in wasn’t an easy decision or us to make because we knew there was going to be hardship created,” he said regarding shutting down businesses.

“I don’t have a definite answer [for re-opening bars] but our teams, mayors, governor, are grinding away to try and get everyone back to work and the re-opening of our economy while a pandemic going on is much more challenging and complicated so we appreciate people’s patience,” Kawakami said.

“It’s a very complicated question because like everyone knows, alcohol can impair judgement, and impaired judgement can lead to behavior that’s consequential in this situation,” he added.

Each county mayor also said vacation rentals are still considered non-essential and they want hotels to have the chance to get back on their feet first.

“We want to make sure our hotels, resorts are the ones that open first and have the opportunity to reestablish themselves first,” said Victorino.

“Wailea, Kapalua, Kaanapali are designated resort areas for our visitors enjoy and then go home and not utilizing residential units for that purpose I know there’s a different type of visitor these days,” he added.

“Many visitors that come through Daniel K. Inouye International Airport are designating that they’re staying with family and friends and they are staying at vacation rentals and shouldn’t be and they’re putting a great stress on the community and putting additional pressure on the attorney generals office, our state sheriffs, and law enforcement and it remains a challenge,” said Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

He said once tourism reopens again that officials need to look at finding a new balance.

Mayor Victorino said he believes testing visitors for COVID 72-hours before they arrive is the best way to ensure the safety of residents.

“We agree the safety of our community is paramount,” he said. “We believe COVID-19 will come from outside the state of Hawaii vs. inside the state.”

“All the new cases have come back from the mainland, whether it was for work or other reasons for being there when they returned, they’re found to be positive,” Victorino said.

“We’re going to continue to face big changes ahead,” said Caldwell. “We’ll get through this by working together and at times it will look messy, but it’s hard and difficult but we are working together and talking and learning from each other.”

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