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Counties can decide own COVID-19 rules

State eases some restrictions, gives emergency powers back to counties

Gov. David Ige announces changes to the state’s COVID-19 measures on Tuesday, which includes giving the counties power over their emergency orders and regulations for social gatherings, bars, restaurants, gyms and other venues. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

Maui County will continue to allow 100 percent capacity and drop 6-foot distancing requirements at restaurants, bars and other establishments as Gov. David Ige announced that he would cede emergency powers and other decisions back to the counties.

“As we have seen an improvement and stabilization of the virus activity in our community, it really is a good time to pivot state coordination back to the counties,” Ige said during a news conference with Maui, Hawaii and Honolulu county mayors on Tuesday afternoon.

“I will no longer require county coordination of their emergency orders. Counties will be free to act in the best interest of their county in providing restrictions as necessary as we fight the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Hawaii is currently averaging 112 daily cases a day, with a test positivity rate of 1.5 percent, according to state Department of Health data as of Tuesday. Maui County is averaging 15 new cases a day, tied with Kauai County for the lowest in the state, and a 1.5 percent test positivity rate, tied with Honolulu County for the lowest statewide. Vaccination rates are at 72.4 percent of the total population statewide, including 75 percent in Honolulu County, 68 percent in Hawaii and Kauai counties and 65 percent in Maui County.

The governor had previously required counties to run their proposed emergency rules by the state to keep uniformity among the ever-changing pandemic restrictions. New changes Ige announced Tuesday include:

• No longer requiring counties to obtain the approval of the governor or the director of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency prior to issuing county emergency orders, rules or proclamations. Counties will continue to have direct responsibility for emergency management with their respective counties. The change takes effect Dec. 1.

• Ending the state’s executive order on social gatherings, restaurants, bars, social establishments and gyms on Dec. 1. The counties will implement appropriate measures for social gatherings, restaurant operations, social establishments and other venues within their own counties.

• Ending extensions for driver’s license renewals, instruction permits and replacements as of Monday.

• No longer offering a critical infrastructure workers’ exemption to the 10-day travel quarantine, consistent with federal and state implementation of vaccination and testing policies. Exemptions for people who previously tested positive for COVID-19 and other exemptions will continue to be considered.

“This is really just a return to the normal emergency situations in which counties are lead and the state provides guidance and support,” Ige said of returning emergency control to the counties. “Emergencies are usually county specific and county led with state support.”

Mayor Michael Victorino, who spoke remotely from Las Vegas where he is attending the Maui Jim Maui Invitational, said that the county will go with the same rules for restaurants, with 100 percent capacity and no 6-foot distancing, and allowing customers to sit indoors as long as they are either vaccinated and/or tested. The rules do not apply to outdoor seating.

“For the others like gyms and other high-traffic areas, we’ll let them go up to 100 percent capacity but physical distancing still will be required,” Victorino said during the news conference.

The mayor said in a statement shortly after that his administration “is currently reviewing the existing rules and we will soon announce plans to ease more of Maui County’s public health restrictions.”

“I want to thank the people of Maui County for doing such an excellent job of protecting and supporting one another throughout this entire pandemic,” Victorino said. “Our 1.5 percent positivity rate is one of the nation’s lowest. I also want to thank Governor Ige for his leadership and guidance over the past 20 months. I have no doubt the governor’s methodical approach saved hundreds of lives.”

Ige said that other programs that have proven effective will stay in place, including the Hawaii Safe Travels Program, the indoor mask mandate, the vaccination and testing requirements for state executive and county employees and the vaccination and testing requirements for contractors and visitors to state facilities.

When asked about the future of the Safe Travels program, Ige said the state still believes “it’s important for those trans-Pacific travelers who are not vaccinated and who are not completing a pre-travel test to be subject to quarantine, and that’s the best thing that we can do to keep our community safe.”

He said that about two-thirds of travelers to the islands are fully vaccinated, while a third is still subject to quarantine or pre-travel testing.

The governor will sign the new proclamation on Monday. It will stay in effect through Jan. 28 unless terminated or superseded by a separate proclamation.

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

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