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County to lift all remaining COVID-19 emergency rules

Change takes effect Tuesday, nearly two years after the earliest restrictions

A sign reminds customers to following 6-foot physical distancing and masking requirements. Mayor Michael Victorino announced Friday that he would be repealing all of the county’s COVID-19 emergency rules effective Tuesday, though he still encouraged masking in large groups and reminded people that they would have to comply with specific businesses’ rules. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Maui County will repeal all of its remaining COVID-19 emergency rules on Tuesday after nearly two years of restrictions, though residents will still need to follow state travel and masking rules and comply with local businesses’ requirements, Mayor Michael Victorino announced.

“We will only be able to do this because our new case counts are very low, our hospitalization rate has remained low, and more importantly, our surge has subsided substantially,” Victorino said during the county’s news conference on Friday afternoon.

“I’m proud to say that the people of Maui County over the past two years have worked really hard to follow our mandates, or our expectations if you want to use that term, to keep themselves healthy and safe.”

The repeal will only apply to county rules, Victorino said. State rules remain in place, including the Safe Travels Program, which requires proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test prior for travelers coming into Hawaii, as well as the statewide requirement to wear masks indoors.

“However, I am in contact with the governor, and he too is looking to make changes in the not-too-distant future, but he remains cautious,” Victorino said.

A spokesperson for the Governor’s Office could not be immediately reached for comment on Friday evening.

State and county emergency rules have evolved with the pandemic, at times leaving residents and businesses confused as public officials scrambled to respond to changing case counts and hospitalizations. The current version of Maui County’s rules, updated Monday, contains far fewer restrictions than the start of the pandemic, though it still limits indoor social gatherings to 25. Outdoor gatherings have no limits, though people are encouraged to avoid or limit gathering with nonhousehold members.

The county recently lifted rules requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test for indoor service at restaurants, bars and gyms.

Victorino said Friday that customers will still need to abide by the rules of individual businesses once the county’s rules are repealed.

“Mask requirement is very similar to when you go to a store or to a business that says ‘no shoes, no shirt, no service,’ “ he said. “They have that right. It is their business, and so let’s respect that.”

Other changes include the reopening of all three county campgrounds — One Ali’i Park in Kaunakakai, Papohaku Park on Molokai’s west end and Papalaua Wayside Park in West Maui — as well as smaller community centers with capacities up to 300 people.

Larger-capacity community centers like the ones in Wailuku, Kihei and Lahaina, will reopen at a later date to be announced, partly due to renovations — the air conditioning at the Kihei Community Center, for example, is not yet up and running — as well as to allow the county time to monitor the new “stealth omicron” variant.

“Remember, if things change, we will make the necessary changes as needed,” Victorino said.

COVID cases have cooled in recent weeks after an omicron variant-fueled surge sent cases soaring over the winter. On Jan. 14, the day before the state Department of Health was forced to stop reporting positivity rates because it was overwhelmed with cases, Maui County was averaging 469 cases a day and a 22 percent positivity rate. Oahu, the hardest hit, was seeing 2,545 new cases a day and a test positivity rate of 20.6 percent.

More than a month later, Maui County is now averaging 27 new cases per day and a test positivity rate of 3.7 percent, according to state Department of Health data as of Friday.

While the number of COVID-positive patients at Maui Memorial Medical Center spiked to record-high levels in January, the hospital did not have to declare an internal state of emergency like major hospitals on Oahu did.

COVID hospitalizations have steadily decreased, though total patient counts remain high. Last week, Maui Health said that Maui Memorial has been seeing “the longest, most sustained high census the hospital has ever experienced.”

“However, this high census is not unique to Maui Health, as hospitals across the state are experiencing the same, record-breaking census levels and it is not related to COVID-19 patients,” Maui Health said.

As of 9 a.m. Friday, there were 12 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 at Maui Memorial, including seven vaccinated and five unvaccinated. It’s a marked decrease from the record-high 56 COVID-positive patients at Maui Memorial on Jan. 28.

Maui Health officials could not be immediately reached for comment Friday evening on the county’s plans to roll back all public health emergency rules.

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

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