Hawaii clamps down on gatherings as Covid cases grow

Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced new restrictions on gatherings and certain businesses in response to a surge in Covid-19 cases linked to the delta variant. 

Effective immediately, restaurants, bars, gyms and other social establishments are required to scale back indoor capacity to 50% after previously being allowed to reach 75% capacity.

Additionally, customers at those types of businesses are prohibited from mingling and must wear a face covering at all times except for when they are actively eating or drinking. 

On top of the business restrictions, social gatherings are now limited to no more than 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors, with an exception for more formalized events. 

Structured events, including weddings and meetings, will be allowed to continue. Those events with more than 50 attendees are now required to submit Covid-19 mitigation plans to county officials for review. Each county will develop its own procedure for granting special permission for “professionally organized” events that involve more than 50 people.

The updated restrictions come as cases of Covid-19 have increased in Hawaii in recent weeks. The current weekly average for daily cases is more than 500, while in July the average case count was 60. The current daily case count is double what Hawaii experienced in August 2020, the previous height of the pandemic for the state.

“We know that we need to do something to stem the increasing case counts of Covid in our community,” Ige said during a Aug. 10 press conference announcing the new emergency order. 

Officials said the growth in Covid-19 cases has once again pushed hospitals to their limits. 

“All of our hospitals are at capacity,” said Hawaii Island Mayor Mitch Roth. “Some of our hospitals are over capacity, and so these are steps that have to be taken to keep our community safe and healthy.” 

During the press conference, Ige said the new emergency order does not include changes to the state’s Safe Travels program for screening those entering the state, but if the current upward trend does not shift, more changes could be on the way. 

“The delta variant has truly changed the Covid-19 pandemic here in the islands,” Ige said. “We have seen increased transmission, and we must take action in order that our health system is not overwhelmed.”

The state has been rolling out programs to increase the vaccination rate, and recently implemented a policy of requiring all state workers to get vaccinated or submit to regular Covid-19 testing. But state officials said the impacts of additional vaccinations will not be seen for another six or seven weeks in the case count. The current vaccination rate for Hawaii is 61%.

State health director Libby Char reported approximately 95% of the people being hospitalized with Covid-19 in Hawaii are not vaccinated. 

Ige said he has no benchmarks that would prompt a return to more relaxed restrictions, but officials would monitor the case counts as well as hospital capacity as they consider next steps.

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