Hawaii Governor David Ige in a joint press conference with county mayors announced that, effective December 1, mayors will be allowed to make their own pandemic emergency orders and rules without the governor’s approval or Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency’s director.
The announcement was welcome news to the business community and Hawaii’s beleaguered tourism industry.
“These steps serve to revitalize our visitor industry at an appropriate time, with our state’s vaccination rate ranked among the highest in the nation, coupled with the health safeguards for domestic travelers that are required by Hawaii’s Safe Travels program,” said HTA president & CEO John De Fries. “The modified federal restrictions on international arrivals and the continuation of Hawaii’s indoor mask mandate provide additional safeguards.”
Ige also said that some existing COVID-19 restrictions will remain in place, while a new emergency proclamation will implement additional changes beginning Monday. The new proclamation says there will be no changes to the state’s Safe Travels program, indoor mask mandate, vaccination, or testing requirements for state and county employees along with vaccination or testing requirements for contractors and visitors to state facilities. These rules will be in effect through January 28, 2022, unless terminated or superseded by a separate proclamation, Ige said.
“We feel comfortable at this point in time to relax some of the restrictions,” Ige said. “We are at a better place than 3 months ago, but we are still not finished with the pandemic.”
Ige emphasized that the change “is really just the return to the normal emergency situation in which counties are lead and the state provides guidance and support.”
Statewide limits for social gatherings, restaurants, bars, social establishments, and gyms will also end December 1.
“The counties will implement appropriate measures for social gatherings, restaurant operations, social establishments and other venues within their own counties,” the proclamation states.
Immediately following the governor’s statement, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said he would relax the 6-foot social distancing rule for Oahu restaurants so that they can operate at full capacity.
“This is going to be terrific for our smaller restaurants, it is the fabric of our communities, it is the fabric of how we live,” said the governor said. “We need to get people back to work at those restaurants.”
Earlier, Blangiardi announced loosened restrictions for Oahu including lifting capacity requirements for all large events starting December 1. For live events on Oahu, Blangiardi said organizers will also be able to serve food and drink. “However, if they are going to serve food and drink,” Blangiardi said, “we are going to require them to continue with the Safe Access program. If you are not vaccinated, you are to present a test within 48 hours.”
Ige said social activities are expected to increase during the holidays and encouraged everyone to continue to use common sense.
“Hawaii’s virus activity is still substantial. We do know when we’re averaging 100 per day that if we let our guard down, it would not take a whole lot to see that escalate very rapidly,” he added.
The governor concluded by saying that the state’s health care system has recovered from the impacts of the delta surge over the summer.
“We are seeing the number of COVID patients in our hospitals return to the pre-surge numbers,” he said, “so we know hospitals still continue to be rather full with regular patients, but we don’t see and we don’t believe that the current virus cases would be a huge overwhelming concern.”
“Today’s announcements are another welcomed sign of Hawaii’s recovery, allowing businesses to return to full capacity, resulting in a better experience for visitors and local residents alike,” Fries concluded.