Lawmakers quiz state: Why can restaurants reopen but bars can’t?

State senators question emergency management officials over plans for reopening the economy

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Responding to pointed questions from lawmakers, state officials Tuesday defended their cautious approach to reopening the economy.

Alexandra Slous, the state disaster recovery coordinator, told a state Senate committee on COVID-19 that Hawaii remains in the “act with care” or yellow phase of its plan.

That means some places, including restaurants, can resume operations with precautions in place.

But bars need to wait to welcome patrons until Hawaii gets into the green phase.

Slous said Hawaii has a 95% recovery rate for COVID-19 and the lowest death rate in the nation. But, she said, the reopening of the economy will still take awhile.

Lawmakers questioned that conclusion.

"There’s no consistency in that,” said State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, of the state's plan.

She said bars should be able to open if they follow social distancing measures.

State Sen. Donavan Dela Cruz agreed, suggesting the rules be based on the square footage of the bar.

Slous was open minded to their suggestions.

“If bars you are able to distance appropriately then they could be folded into kind of that restaurant-bar category because that was something, a nuance that came up," he said.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said bars are more of a concern than restaurants.

“As you have one beer, two beers, three beers, you start to get more relaxed," he said.

“It’s harder to make sure people are performing in the safest way. Having said that, we’re looking for ways to do it. We need to open up every segment of our economy including those that are more risky.”

Slous said they will review the categories and admitted that this is a learning process.

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