HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The inter-island traveler quarantine will be reinstated, beaches and parks on Oahu will be closed, and police have pledged to dramatically dial up enforcement of emergency orders as part of a broad new push to rein in the island’s surge of COVID-19 cases.
The measures represent the most significant rollback yet of the strict restrictions introduced in the first months of the coronavirus pandemic and come as public health officials warn COVID-19 is rapidly spreading on Oahu. The island is now regularly reporting new infections in the triple digits.
“This is the last thing that we wanted to do,” Gov. David Ige said, in a news conference Thursday.
“We have endured several months of restrictions and had been successful. But as we reopened our community, people let their guard down.”
What isn’t closing — at least for now — is any additional businesses.
A temporary closure of Oahu bars remains in effect, however, restaurants must stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m., and the city pledged to crack down on other establishments breaking the rules.
The partial inter-island quarantine will go into effect Tuesday and continue through Aug. 31.
It requires anyone arriving by air on any island except Oahu to quarantine for 14 days.
While Neighbor Island travelers won’t have to quarantine when they arrive on Oahu, they will have to quarantine when they return. Those flying between Neighbor Islands will also have to self-isolate.
There was no immediate word on whether the state would also further delay planned modifications to trans-Pacific quarantine restrictions on Sept. 1 as part of a traveler testing program.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the closure of city and state parks and beaches will start at midnight Friday and extend through Sept. 5. Also closed: Botanical gardens, city and private swimming pools, bowling alleys, tennis courts and hiking trails. People will be allowed to traverse beach parks to get to the water, but won’t be able to linger on the sand or in the parks (though they can use public restrooms).
In a head scratching moment, there was no announcement about schools and universities. Ige said the state is “monitoring the situation” and plans to discuss the issue soon but declined to elaborate.
Public schools are set to resume Aug. 17, following a two-week delay to prepare campuses.
In the news conference Thursday, State Health Director Bruce Anderson said that the state saw “at least” 200 new coronavirus infections Thursday. The Department of Health later put the official number at 152, most of which were on Oahu.
“We are approaching a health care crisis and bold measures are needed now,” Anderson said, adding that 117 coronavirus patients are hospitalized in Hawaii and 53% of ICU beds are filled.
Amid the surge in new COVID-19 cases, public health officials have warned that ICUs could be overwhelmed by the end of the month if the daily infection tally remains in the triple digits.
Earlier this week, the mayor pleaded with residents to wear masks and avoid gatherings, and pledged “drastic action” if the number of new cases didn’t decline.
Previously, the city temporarily closed bars and limited gatherings to 10 people.
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Caldwell said Thursday that the new restrictions do not target gyms and other high-risk businesses because health officials believe large gatherings and a failure to wear masks are the biggest culprits in Oahu’s spread. That’s even though several significant clusters — and at least one death ― have been linked to gyms. Officials have previously called outdoor exercise low risk.
“The issue is with large, uncontrolled gatherings that we’ve seen outdoors for the most part,” Caldwell said, adding that businesses by comparison are able to enforce the rules.
“What’s open is things we can control and where we’ve seen compliance.”
After closures in March, people started flocking back to Oahu parks when they were reopened in mid-May. And on Thursday, some park goers acknowledge that may been part of the problem.
At Ala Moana Regional Park, parkgoers said they largely understood why the new rule are necessary.
For me, personally, it’s sad, but I guess a lot of people just don’t know how to follow rules,” said Mililani Mauka resident Annette Smith.
Added Aiea resident Patrick Zarko: “We’ve got a pandemic. So we gotta do what we gotta do. If we gotta shut it down for another month, then do it so we can come out and enjoy it.”
Police Chief Susan Ballard said officers would be out in force in the coming days for “strategic enforcement” efforts of the emergency orders. She has created a task force with 160 officers to patrol and respond to violations of the orders, and said they would be citing violators.
The Honolulu Police Department has also set up a coronavirus enforcement hotline that will be available starting Sunday. The hotline number is 723-3900.
This story will be updated.