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Fans allowed to go back to some games, Victorino says

Mayor points to petition, makes call despite governor’s decision

Members of the Wailuku Rainbows 14-and-under team square off for the blocking drill during practice Sept. 7 at Keopuolani Park. Mayor Michael Victorino announced Friday that spectators will be allowed to attend youth sporting events not sanctioned by the state Department of Education, so long as they following gathering, masking and social distancing rules. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Mayor Michael Victorino bucked the governor’s denial of his proposed rule changes, moving ahead Friday with looser restrictions that will allow spectators to attend certain youth sporting events.

Victorino said he had been in talks with Gov. David Ige last week over lifting some COVID-19 restrictions as cases have gone down statewide and in Maui County, which is averaging the lowest test positivity rate in the state at 2.5 percent and the second-lowest daily average cases at 25. The county submitted a formal request for changes on Monday.

“I am disappointed that the governor denied all of them,” Victorino said during a news conference Friday. “The Department of Health believes all restrictions should emain in place until Oct. 20th at the earliest. They pointed out that 193 deaths have occurred in Hawaii in September, and we are depending on 650 support medical staff from FEMA to help the overworked health professionals in Maui County and the state of Hawaii.”

“However, I did tell him that despite his position, I have decided to lift the ban on spectators at sport events outdoors,” Victorino said, explaining that family and friends have contacted his office and circulated a petition asking for parents and other spectators to be able to safely attend their children’s games.

Effective immediately, spectators may attend youth sports not sanctioned by the state Department of Education, so long as they sit in household groups of no more than 10, wear face masks and provide at least 6 feet between “household pods and individuals.”

“This was their petition and I followed their request. I would hope now that they will honor this,” Victorino said. “I want to clarify that the county has no authority over the MIL sporting events, so those rules only apply to sports not sanctioned by the state Department of Education. Please do the right thing. Let’s prove to Gov. Ige that Maui residents are respectful of the need to prevent further spread of COVID-19 in our community.”

When asked why the mayor went against the governor on spectators but not other rules, a county spokesperson said Friday after the news conference that “of all the restrictions this posed the least safety risks.”

Since mid-September, Maui County has been under a “Safer Outside” initiative banning spectators at sporting events and requiring proof of vaccination for customers to enter restaurants, bars and gyms. Victorino has hinted at lifting some of those rules but had declined to reveal the requested rule changes in case they were not approved by the governor.

A spokesperson for the governor did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Victorino’s decision Friday evening.

However, earlier in the day, Ige had urged patience, saying the state was not out of the woods yet despite a decline in cases in recent weeks. The governor announced Friday afternoon that he would be extending the state’s emergency proclamation for COVID-19 through Nov. 30, pointing out that while officials had been optimistic in May and June as vaccinations rose and case counts were stable, the delta variant changed the outlook.

“We felt that we would be able to reach 70 percent vaccination rate and we would be able to lift the emergency proclamation and really get back to life (as) normal,” Ige said.

The delta variant sent cases skyrocketing in August, exceeding more than 1,000 cases some days, spiking hospitalizations and sending facilities into crisis. Cases have declined in recent weeks, with the state averaging 301 cases a day as of Friday. However, the spike took its toll, with nearly 200 people dying of the virus in September and the state Department of Health investigating 46 clusters totaling nearly 1,300 people in the last two weeks, Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char said.

“We are heading in the right direction, but it’s still too soon to let our guard down,” Char said.

Hawaii still has “a few weeks to go before we expect to be back at a level where we can manage ourselves with our current resources and people,” Char said. She pointed out that 650 health care professionals from the Mainland are still assisting hospitals, and tents remain in front of most hospital’s emergency departments. It also took a monumental effort to secure a stable supply of oxygen, and health care facilities are also getting help with monoclonal antibody treatments.

“We’re trending down and we’re absolutely heading in the right direction, but we’re still far above what the peak was for previous surges,” Char said. “So that’s why we’re asking that people be patient. Our public health, health care and emergency management brothers and sisters just came through 12 weeks of battle. Please be patient as we allow them to catch their breath and as we all work to improve and further the trend in the right direction.”

Ige said that the emergency proclamation:

• Does not make any changes to the Safe Travels program.

• Does not change the statewide mask mandate, which requires them indoors.

• Clarifies that employers are not required to pay for COVID-19 testing for employees who are unvaccinated and choose to undergo regular testing instead.

• Restores civil service recruitment requirements that were previously suspended in alignment with federal law. The suspension ensured that the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations had enough resources to respond to the unemployment crisis.

• Allows state boards and commissions to continue meeting virtually using interactive conference technology.

• Allows extensions for driver’s licenses and instructional permits that expired during the emergency period.

Gathering restrictions are implemented by individual counties; Maui County allows indoor social gatherings up to five people and outdoor gatherings up to 10.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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