HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a bid to tamp down a worsening surge in new COVID-19 cases on Oahu, Honolulu’s mayor is proposing to shut down all bars on Oahu for three weeks, require mask wearing outdoors at all times, and limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people.
They’re some of the most significant restrictions since the state’s shutdown order in March.
And they come amid increasing concern from public health officials that the growth of coronavirus infections could begin to tax the state’s health care system.
All of the proposals will need to be approved by the governor, who plans to respond the mayor’s requests within 24 hours of them being submitted.
The three-week shutdown of bars, Caldwell said, would allow the Honolulu Liquor Commission to come up with a stronger program to enforce COVID-19 safety rules.
Meanwhile, Caldwell wants to significantly strengthen the existing mask mandate, requiring face coverings whenever people are outside ― including when you’re walking or jogging, playing team sports or watching them. (Masks won’t be required in the water.)
Mask are already mandated at businesses, including at all times in gyms. And they’re required outside if you are unable to socially distance. By taking away that “if” provision, Oahu is poised to have one of the strictest mask mandates in the country. Most jurisdictions have exceptions for exercising.
Earlier this week, Kauai mandated masks for anyone 5 and over indoors and outdoors when near people from a different household.
Caldwell said if you can’t wear a mask while doing a particular exercise outside, then you should slow down ― or pick another exercise.
The mayor also wants to limit gatherings to no more than 10 people, from up to 50 inside or 100 outside now. Health officials and the lieutenant governor have said that previous spikes in new COVID-19 cases were linked to parties, including for Memorial Day, July Fourth and graduations.
“There’s gatherings of 100 or more in our parks with no face coverings,” Caldwell said.
It wasn’t immediately clear if there would be exceptions to the new gathering rule.
In recent days, Hawaii has seen record highs for new cases, topping 60 to 70 new infections a day. The positivity rate, or the percentage of people who test positive of all those tested, is also on the rise.
So far in July, Hawaii has reported 850 new coronavirus cases ― the vast majority of which are on Oahu. That compares to just 276 cases in all of June.
“We are very concerned about the spike that we see,” Caldwell said. “We need to take more action.”
Caldwell noted that bars were among the last businesses to reopen because they are high risk, and he has tried to take smaller enforcement steps in a bid to stem the economic pain of the pandemic.
In addition to instituting a host of social distancing protocols, similar to those required of restaurants, bars were ordered to stop serving alcohol at midnight. And liquor inspectors and police were given authority to shut down bars for 24 hours if they witness violations of COVID-19 mandates.
But those efforts, Caldwell said, haven’t stopped some bars from flouting the rules. The state Health Department is investigating several clusters of COVID-19 linked to bars on Oahu, and liquor inspectors temporarily closed two Honolulu bars where social distancing wasn’t being enforced.
Caldwell called the three-week bar shutdown the result of a “few bad actors.”
He said it wouldn’t apply to restaurants that serve alcohol and that his order would not allow bars to begin serving food to get around the closure.
“What comes first is health and safety. We’re going to protect people ... and that comes over economic hardship,” Caldwell said. “Right now, we’re seeing signs that our community is less healthy.”
On Tuesday, there were 46 new COVID-19 cases on Oahu, a figure that officials say is “artificially low” because of Hurricane Douglas-related testing disruptions. Caldwell said the total Wednesday is expected to be significant because it will likely include samples from previous days.
Also Tuesday, Caldwell called on the state Health Department to clarify “triggers” that would prompt stronger restrictions, from closing down more businesses to banning other activities.
This story will be updated.