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Churches, restaurants work to make sense of Oahu’s new rules on social gatherings

Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Waikiki will hold services this Sunday -- but only after...
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Waikiki will hold services this Sunday -- but only after clearing up some confusion over the city's new social distancing orders.(Hawaii News Now)
Updated: Aug. 30, 2020 at 4:41 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - New restrictions on Oahu social gatherings aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 have also led to confusion about what they actually mean.

In announcing the new rules this week, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said parties indoors and out couldn’t have more than five people. But the order bans social gatherings with “any number of people.”

The announcement also confused some church leaders, including Yukio Hamada, pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Waikiki.

[Read more: New restrictions on social gatherings take effect on Oahu in bid to rein in COVID-19 surge]

[Read more: Confused about the city’s new COVID-19 restrictions? Here’s the full order]

“What does it mean by party? To the people in our Bible study group it meant social. To the clergy, it meant a gathering,” said Hamada.

Hamada also wasn’t sure if the order disallowed the church from meeting at all. “I emailed the COVID hotline right after the proclamation came out, and I still haven’t received an answer from them,” he said.

The pastor finally got some clarification from other Lutheran Church officials.

Hamada said he was gold that “churches holding spiritual services are considered designated businesses, not social gatherings.”

However, he won’t have singing during services on Sunday.

The order allows for singing and playing wind instruments, but only if they are distanced 10 feet apart. Physical barriers, such as plexiglass, are also mandated.

“It said if you had a choir, that they would have to be 10 feet apart and you’d have to have partitions of some sort, which doesn’t make any sense and is expensive, especially for small congregations like we are,” said Hamada.

“I think we’ll continue and go ahead and worship, but so much of our service is singing, that we’re going to just have to adapt and learn how to speak for those things,” he added.

Caldwell’s original announcement about no more than five people in a gathering does apply to restaurants.

“We’ve had to break up some parties and just put them on separate tables, but we’ve been able to accommodate everybody, and it hasn’t been that bad,” said Craig Katsuyoshi, of Helena’s Hawaiian Foods.

The local favorite has reduced its tables from more than 20 to just nine to allow for social distancing. Katsuyoshi considers himself lucky: He says business is down by about a third, but has remained steady.

However, 80% of it is now takeout — the reverse of what it was before the pandemic.

Some restaurant operators are worried that the phrase “no gathering” will mean “no going out” to some.

Noods Ramen Bar has small tables separated by plastic partitions. But Thursday was its slowest day since it reopened in April. “I would have to attribute that to the stay-at-home order, that people are just a little bit confused at the moment,” said Chaz Okuda-Dennis, of Noods.

“Customers seem a little worried and seem a little hesitant, just coming around, seeing if places are open, seeing if they’re able to dine,” he added.

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