Restaurant, gathering COVID restrictions set to be tightened
If approved by Gov. Ige, new rules will cut occupancy, gathering limits
Maui County bars and restaurants will see further reductions in occupancy and social gathering numbers will be cut in half with new rules slated to go into effect Saturday, pending state approval.
Although county and state health officials had expected COVID-19 cases to decline after recent closures, the curve has been peaking, Managing Director Sandy Baz said Wednesday during the county’s news conference.
“The actions we’ve taken today that the mayor has requested the governor approve are interim steps to help to slow down the number of cases, the spread, that’s been happening,” he said. “If you look at the epidemiology curve that’s been occurring, it has peaked and we would’ve expected it to go down after the holiday season and after the closure of the bars but it’s been kind of steady.”
Mayor Michael Victorino submitted a request to the governor’s office to limit occupancy at bars and restaurants to no more than 30 percent of inside occupancy and require that they close by 10 p.m. Previously, capacity limits have been 50 percent of occupancy.
Victorino is also seeking to cut in half the number of individuals allowed at social gatherings to no more than five people outside of the same household. The county’s current limit is 10.
If the state signs off, the rules will go into effect 12:01 a.m. Saturday and will be evaluated after two weeks, county officials said.
Even tighter restrictions on the hard-hit restaurant and bar industry come on the heels of a two-week bar closure that began Dec. 12. County and state health officials said clusters were occurring at bars due to “bar-like” behavior of eating, drinking and talking without a mask for hours.
Baz said that leaders hope the measure is “short-term.” He added that the county has been looking at ways to help the struggling restaurant industry, such as providing opportunities for restaurants to expand outdoors with expedited permits.
Still, coronavirus cases remain high and county officials said the measures derive from health and epidemiological data from recent county case counts.
When asked by The Maui News if the county will revert to a stay-at-home order, as seen in March, if cases do not improve by mid-January, Baz said that the steps being taken now are to slow the spread.
“We’re doing these interim steps to prevent any future action,” he said. “Of course, no guarantees. In the middle of January, if the case counts are still high or have peaked even more, it may require other actions.”
Maui County as of Monday has been averaging 18 new cases daily in the past week with a test positivity rate of 3.0 percent, the second highest of all counties, according to state Department of Health data released Wednesday. Honolulu County is first with a 3.2 percent positivity rate in the last seven days ending Monday.
County officials asked that people reduce gatherings now, even though the rules are scheduled to go into effect Saturday.
“If you are going to get together, it is better to get together outside,” Baz added. “Hawaii’s climate is just so wonderful — we have that opportunity. The Mainland is snowing right now, so it’s kind of hard. But here, we can.”
When asked about updated numbers to a Harbor Lights condominium COVID-19 outbreak, Baz said he doesn’t have the exact number of confirmed cases but that management is working with the state Department of Health on testing and other procedures. Only residents are allowed in the complex, he added.
State Health officials confirmed Monday 10 COVID-19 cases at Harbor Lights. Victorino said he has ordered cleaning and sanitation of public areas at the complex and that Minit Medical was conducting testing there Wednesday.
* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at email@example.com.