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Roth: New rules to take ‘a measured approach’

As Mayor Mitch Roth prepares to take over as primary emergency rule maker for Hawaii County from Gov. David Ige, he and his rules committee are “trying to take a measured approach.”

Roth has announced his intentions to relax some COVID-19 related restrictions. That said, the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, which was discovered in Botswana, quickly moved to South Africa and has now been detected in Hong Kong, Belgium, Italy, Germany and Israel, could ultimately prove an impediment to those plans.

“We are definitely aware of the threats of … variants moving forward. And so … we move through this, working with our rules committee to ensure a slow and steady reopening while still relaxing our restrictions,” Roth said Friday.

“I had a talk this morning with the hospitals. I’ve been talking with people in various industries.”

Roth said he’ll disclose details, probably Monday, of the county’s emergency proclamation slated to become effective Wednesday.

“Indoor gatherings, the numbers will increase. The numbers for outdoor gatherings will increase quite a bit,” Roth said. “We’ll probably continue to require masks indoors and encourage them, but not require them, in larger outdoor settings.

“… We want to make sure that people are able to go and watch their kids’ sports and we want kids outdoors, playing. We know the sciences is showing that outdoor events are more safe.”

Ige revealed his plans Tuesday for the state to turn over the reins of emergency management of the coronavirus pandemic to the county governments. That was three days before the World Health Organization announced fhe new, highly transmissible omicron variant had spread beyond the African continent. Friday’s announcement caused stock markets to tumble and numerous countries to implement curbs on travelers from southern African nations.

On an online livestream Friday, state Health Director Dr. Libby Char said she’s “very concerned” about the announcement of the omicron variant as Hawaii’s counties move toward lessening of COVID-related restrictions.

“I think the counties know what needs to be done, and I would just hope that they would all be very reasonable,” Char said. “The Department of Health is still doing what it does. We will still provide guidance. We would hope that the counties will take the Department of Health guidance into consideration, since they don’t have county public health (departments). … But really, I think, we all know what to do, and it’s just a matter of being reasonable … especially with the omicron variant. … We saw what happened with delta, and none of us wants that to happen again.”

Roth also expressed his concerns about omicron, pointing to an email disseminated by Katelyn Jetelina, an epidemiologist and biostatistician at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston’s School of Public Health.

Jetelina referred to epidemiological modeling research estimating omicron is 500% more transmissible than the original novel coronavirus, while the delta variant was found to be 70% more transmissible.

“We have to remember that our community’s health and safety is still our priority,” Roth said. “We’re being cautious; we’re not just throwing everything to the wind.”

As for restaurants and bars, Roth said the county’s new set of emergency rules will “have something similar, but probably a little bit different” than the announcements made last week by Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi and Maui Mayor Mike Victorino. Both said those businesses will once again be allowed to operate at full capacity on their islands.

“Remember, in Honolulu and Maui they have the vaccine mandates. We’ve chosen not to do that on the Big Island,” Roth noted. “We want our businesses to be viable. We want our kids to be playing. We want people thriving. But there are also two sides. Some people aren’t working, and we know that poverty is one of the biggest enemies of health care.”

“I’ll just say right now, we’re in a good place, but we’re definitely not out of the woods,” the mayor added.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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