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County officials detail reopening considerations

Some high-risk businesses get green light ahead of medium-risk ones

MICHAEL VICTORINO Assessing reopening risks

Maui County officials are consulting with other government leaders, along with health and economic experts when considering which local businesses to reopen and when.

However, some business, such as salons which the are considered high risk by an expert global public health model the county is using to evaluate COVID-19 reopening, have gotten the green light from Mayor Michael Victorino to open ahead of medium-risk businesses, such as restaurants, gyms and fitness studios and theaters.

Religious drive-in church services with modifications may resume Friday; hair and nail salons with safety measures are slated for Monday reopening; and starting June 5, dine-in restaurants may also begin to reopen if social distancing and other health policies can be met.

However, there are no dates set yet for medium-risk theaters, along with gyms and fitness studios.

Victorino said during a Wednesday news conference that mid-June may be an estimated timeline for fitness training and massage, but the restaurant industry will be evaluated first to see “how they pan out.”

Gov. David Ige announced recently that Hawaii is transitioning into an “Act with Care” phase where the kama’aina economy, buckling under some of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, will be reopened in phases. 

Those guidelines, along with the Johns Hopkins phased reopening model that assesses COVID-19 risk, are currently being considered in Maui’s reopening, according to county Managing Director Sandy Baz.

“We are still using the Johns Hopkins risk assessment model,” Baz said during the news conference, adding that the county’s reopening decisions include mitigation efforts as well.

“The assumption that restaurants are high risk, yes, if they were unmitigated and just let to open without standards and certain restrictions, then, yes, that would definitely be a high risk,” he said. “With those mitigation efforts, it would be seen as a medium risk and could be open up sooner.”

Victorino said that many people may not understand how the reopening is done and why the county is using its approach.

“It’s not a whim and a prayer. We really do a lot of homework before we make decisions that affect your well-being and our safety. Health is our number one priority,” he said.

Baz said that the county is continuing to consult with national and local industry experts to get advice. Also, local leaders are regularly consulting with Hawaii’s other mayors, the governor and the state Department of Health to assess “health determinants.” 

The determinants consider disease activity, its severity and prevalence, along with the area’s health care capacity, such as health care supply, contact tracing and diagnostic testing.

Baz added that the determinants will continually be assessed, especially if cases increase and the county and the state must look at renewing closures.

“I think it’s important that our community understands how we make decisions and the criteria we are looking at and to know that if things get bad, we may have to start retracting and closing it again,” Baz said.

Maui County’s COVID-19 cases Wednesday remained at 117. The county has gone about a week and a half without new COVID-19 cases.

The last time the county reported a case was May 9.

State health officials reported two new COVID-19 cases in the state Wednesday, one each on Hawaii island and on Oahu.

With the new cases, Hawaii County’s infections ticked up to 79 and Honolulu County’s cases rose to 416. Kauai County stayed at 21 cases.

Overall, the state total rose Wednesday to 643 cases, 10 of whom were Hawaii residents diagnosed outside the state.

Out of the total cases, 82 people have required hospitalization. There have been 578 people released from isolation.

There have been 17 deaths in the state, with 11 on Oahu and six on Maui.

State Department of Health COVID-19 case tracking began Feb. 28.

Other COVID-19 updates Wednesday include:

• Drive-thru COVID-19 testing will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. today at South Maui Community Park Gymnasium and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at Keopuolani Regional Park. Two types of testing will be offered — antibody blood testing, which is not covered by insurance and costs about $45; and diagnostic nasal swab testing, which is covered by most insurances. Premier Medical Group is providing the testing. Participants will be screened on-site in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

• The county is extending its Farmers Assistance and Food Distribution program for another five weeks. Maui County announced it is committing $100,000 to the Maui County Farm Bureau and $50,000 to the Hawaii Farmers Union United to purchase produce from farmers, which will be distributed via community groups to residents in need. Since late March, more than 6,000 bags of food have been distributed to families in need at over a dozen food distribution events in Central, South and West Maui, Upcountry, Paia-Haiku, Hana, Molokai and Lanai.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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