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County COVID rules approved; parks to remain open with restrictions

County parks and recreational facilities will remain open under a new emergency rule approved this week, county leaders announced Friday, but with additional restrictions.

The new rule also limits social gathering sizes to 10 people, both indoors and out.

Mayor Mitch Roth said Emergency Rule 17, which has been signed by Gov. David Ige, is aimed at curbing the surge of COVID-19 cases in Hawaii County.

“Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases on our island,” Roth said during a news conference Friday morning. “With an average of 132 cases a day, the Delta variant has undoubtedly swept through our community and has begun to inundate our hospitals and health care systems. Just (Thursday), 20 of the island’s 24 ICU beds were full, 16 of which were occupied by COVID patients, with nine requiring ventilators.”

Another 57 hospital beds were occupied due to the coronavirus.

“We’ve reached a tipping point where further inundation could lead our hospitals to an inability to adequately care for non-COVID trauma patients,” Roth said. “People like me, who had heart attacks, strokes, crash victims and others could go without a bed if we continue to allow COVID to spread at the current rate throughout our community.”

A previous version of rule 17 initially called for the closure of the county’s parks facilities, including beach and shoreline parks.

The final language, however, allows the parks to remain open, although group sizes are limited to no more than 10 people.

Hawaii County Parks and Recreation Director Maurice Messina said during the news conference that the mayor asked the department to come up with a plan that would allow people to still get their exercise and be out on the beach, in the sun and fresh air.

“On our beaches, we’re seeing a lot of gatherings, so we’re going to ask that everyone remain in pods of 10, (and) all those pods are separated by 20 feet,” Messina said.

Mingling between members of separate groups is not allowed, per the emergency rule.

Park pavilions also are closed, and canopies and pop-up tents, including tarps and sun shades, are prohibited.

“This is yet another attempt to prevent the gathering sizes,” Messina said.

While the prior version of the rules prohibited organized sports at any county facility, no such provision is included in the final version.

Gathering rules also will be enforced at state parks, such as Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area, a county spokesman said after the press conference, but added that the county is working with the state on a no-tent mandate.

Camping at county facilities in groups greater than 10 is not allowed, and any permits that exceed that limit have been canceled.

Face coverings also will be required at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens, except while eating or drinking. The zoo’s pavilion, playground and petting zoo are closed.

While the initial version of the rule canceled senior classes managed by the Elderly Activities Division, that provision was not included in the approved rules. A county spokesman said the classes are canceled at the discretion of the department director.

Roth said the rules take effect immediately, and the county will ramp up enforcement efforts “to ensure the safety of our community.”

Hawaii Police Department officers have been given authority to issue $250 citations to those found in violation of any COVID-19 rules outlined in the emergency rule and the state’s emergency proclamation.

Anyone found in violation of breaking quarantine will be fined $500.

Roth said the police department is working on an enforcement plan, but he also anticipates that the community will report violators.

The rules also include stricter guidance for businesses, bars, restaurants and places of worship.

When asked about his decision to opt against a full lockdown, Roth said mayors lack the ability to “completely shut down anything,” but there also are concerns from both sides of the argument.

“Throughout this pandemic, what we’ve been looking at is what’s happening at the hospitals, and we’re just about to be there,” Roth said when asked about the threshold for stricter mandates. “…When we start seeing what they’re seeing in Honolulu, where people are waiting in ambulances and stuff, that may be too late.

“We’ve been having discussions for the last couple of weeks about stricter mandates, and a complete shutdown. We’ve even started having some of those conversations,” the mayor continued. “Nobody really wants to get there, where we’re shutting down the islands, but if these numbers keep on going up and our hospitals keep on going in the direction that they’re going, we’re going start to see a lot of deaths, and I think we may have to do that.”

According to Roth, changes from what was initially proposed and what was approved came largely after discussions with the state Department of Health and doctors.

A full copy of the rule can be found online at bit.ly/EmergencyRule17.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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