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‘We’re getting close’: Mayor hopeful indoor gathering limits can soon be increased

As Hawaii County reopened county gymnasiums and community centers Monday, Mayor Mitch Roth said he hopes more COVID-19 restrictions can safely end soon.

County recreational facilities were reopened to scheduled activities on a reservation basis, while the county announced plans to reopen senior centers, senior congregate meal sites, and senior classes by January 2022.

Parks and Recreation Director Maurice Messina said Monday that reopening senior classes will be contingent upon increasing the maximum allowable indoor gathering size, which is still 10 people in Hawaii County.

“Normally, November is when we’d start running senior classes, but to be fiscally responsible, we really would need indoor gathering sizes to be bigger,” Messina said.

Roth said Monday he is hopeful that indoor gathering sizes can increase soon, but declined to offer a prediction for when that might happen.

“There really isn’t any kind of tipping point right now,” Roth said. “It’s hard to give an exact number, but we’re getting close. As the vaccination rate rises, we’re hoping that we could maybe drop other restrictions soon.”

According to state Department of Health data, 67% of the county’s population has completed a vaccine regimen as of Monday. There were only 12 new COVID cases reported on the island Monday, with 69 reported statewide.

Roth said other COVID restrictions that could loosen in the near future could include further increases to gathering size limits or dropping any outdoor mask requirements, but added that many such changes would depend on decisions by Gov. David Ige.

In the meantime, Roth said he hopes that the reopening of gyms and community centers will allow people to safely return to physical activity in order to bolster their immune systems.

“The goal of the county is to ensure that our facilities are getting their maximum allowable usage,” Messina said.

Under the reopening guidelines, groups planning activities must call Parks and Recreation for a reservation and, if the number of people involved goes above the allowable limit, submit an event request including the event’s COVID safety plans.

“If the safety plan isn’t up to snuff, we have people at the site who will work with the group to make sure it is up to par,” Messina said, adding that the county has not had any problems with groups flouting rules at events earlier this year.

Messina said the county has pushed back plans to reopen gym facilities three times this year as COVID spikes repeatedly flared up throughout the state. However, he said, this has given the county time to further refine the plans before reopening on Monday.

Roth said he had considered making vaccinations mandatory for using county gyms and centers, but ultimately decided against it.

“We could have required vaccines, but we didn’t,” Roth said. “It’s true that the majority of people getting seriously ill are unvaccinated, but the people who are dying most often have comorbidities.”

Because certain COVID comorbidities such as obesity can be mitigated through physical activity, Roth said it was important to keep physical recreation centers available for everyone.

Stand-alone community centers will be open from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday-Thursday and from 7:45 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. on Fridays. Gymnasiums with integrated community centers will be open noon-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday and from 7:45 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. on Fridays.

Certain activities may be permitted at facilities after hours on a case-by-case basis, Messina said. Reservations can be made by contacting the facility directly or contacting the county Recreation Division at (808) 961-8740.

“We ask that people make reservations as soon as they know when their event will be,” Messina said.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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