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New rules await approval: Mayor seeks OK for more stringent COVID-19 restrictions

Mayor Mitch Roth last week proposed more stringent restrictions aimed at curbing the surge of COVID-19 cases in Hawaii County.

The strain on the island’s hospitals is the impetus for the new or reinstated restrictions outlined in Emergency Rule 17. The measure has been sent to Gov. David Ige for approval, which Roth expects to come this week.

Among other provisions, the new order would close county parks and recreational facilities, including beach and shoreline parks.

The rule, however, still permits people to traverse the county’s beach parks on foot between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily to access the ocean for exercise, fishing or food gathering, and to use restroom and shower facilities.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources did not respond Friday, a state holiday, to questions about possible restrictions at state parks, such as Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area. It is anticipated, however, that state parks also will be closed.

Nothing in the proposed order prevents businesses, operations or other activity sponsors from requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from employees or customers as a condition of entry into the business or participation in an activity.

Face masks are still required as part of the governor’s Aug. 5 emergency proclamation, but the county also will require people to wear masks in outdoor settings where more than 10 people are gathered and 6-foot social distancing is difficult to maintain or impractical.

Permitted group sizes for social gatherings remains at up to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

Roth said Friday afternoon the governor would have “a few tweaks to some of our rules, but I’m not exactly sure what those are.”

While some previous emergency proclamations from the governor had recognized the progress made toward managing the ongoing public health crisis, and relaxed certain restrictions that had been implemented to slow the spread of the virus, the arrival of the highly transmissible Delta variant has caused case counts in Hawaii to surge to record-breaking heights.

“The dramatic increase in community spread of COVID-19 has resulted in increased hospitalization and strained health care resources, including utilization of all ICU hospital beds on island,” Roth said in the proposed rule, a copy of which was provided to the Tribune-Herald last week. “Without immediate action, the County of Hawaii is unable to meet urgent health care needs of our island community. As a result, it has become necessary to re-implement more stringent restrictions in order to reduce the threat of spread and enable our health care resources to meet urgent health care needs attributable to the spread of COVID-19.”

Roth reiterated that sentiment Friday and said if the impacts to the hospitals weren’t as great as they are, “we wouldn’t have to do this.”

But will new restrictions be enough to stem the tide of COVID infections?

“Rules will only do a certain amount to keep people safe and healthy,” said Roth, who last week visited the Big Island’s hospitals. “Really, it is going to take our whole community to do the right thing, to take it upon themselves to protect everybody. The rules will hopefully get people to do things, but unless the community takes the responsibility to protect their kids, the kupuna and everybody else, it’s going to be difficult, and we’re going to see the numbers that we’re seeing.”

Roth said most people who are hospitalized are unvaccinated.

“What is really concerning is that every one of our hospitals that I visited this week, every one of the ERs, talked about situations where people had to wait in the ER to get a room — not just hours, but days. That’s happening. … When people end up waiting to get to the ER, bad things happen,” he said.

“I had a heart attack earlier this year. If I ended up waiting in an ambulance because the ER couldn’t see me, I probably wouldn’t have made it. … We hope the rules will get people to think, take it a little more serious, but until the community really understands it’s all of our kuleana … to make a difference, we’re going to see our numbers continue to (climb).”

The emergency rule will remain in place until Oct. 4, unless it is extended, rescinded superseded or amended.

As proposed, people in violation of the emergency rule will be fined $250 for each violation, a new provision. Those found violating mandatory quarantine requirements will be fined $500 for each violation.

Before the new emergency rule, Roth said violations were a misdemeanor offense, but the state Legislature approved a measure that allows counties to levy fines.

This give police an opportunity to issue citations similar to traffic citations, and “to do something and spread the net a lot more widely.”

Lt. Gov. Josh Green addressed the possibility of further restrictions during a livestream Friday.

“We definitely need to be restricting all large gatherings, period,” said Green, a Big Island physician. “They can’t go on. We’ll have to enforce that in any way possible.”

Green said nearly 83% of the state’s eligible population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while the remaining 17% is seeing COVID “rage through it.”

“And people ask, and they ask this openly, ‘Is it fair to shut down all of society when 83% of the people have chose to protect themselves or their families in their community?’” he said. “Is it fair to shut every business down and make people go bankrupt or close schools when our children need to be educated?

“You can make a compelling argument that it’s simply not fair to all those individuals who have done the right thing and won’t get severely ill,” Green continued. “The problem, of course, is the hospitals are full.

“So what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to be fair to people who have made the right choice to protect themselves and their community, and do everything else that we can to support the hospitals.”

Reporter John Burnett contributed to this story.

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

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