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Bars allowed to reopen immediately as city significantly eases COVID restrictions

Updated: Mar. 11, 2021 at 5:31 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The city is significantly ― and quickly ― easing COVID restrictions, allowing bars to reopen immediately, team sports to resume next month, and lifting all attendance restrictions for funerals as long as attendees socially distance and wear masks.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said the changes recognize the significant strides Oahu has made in keeping new COVID infections down.

“We were surprised and very pleased that we were able to get to Tier 3 at the end of February,” Blangiardi said. “We also felt like there were modifications that we should ask for, especially in the area of youth sports and sports in general.”

He also said the new rules were approved by his team of medical experts and the governor.

Under the modifications to Tier 3 of the city’s reopening strategy:

  • Oahu bars, which have been shut down since August, can reopen immediately and operate the same way that restaurants do. Both bars and restaurants will be allowed to serve alcohol to midnight. Previously, restaurants had to stop serving alcohol at 10 p.m.
  • Youth sports got the go ahead to resume on April 12. Adult sports can begin April 19. But spectators aren’t allowed, and players and coaches will have to wear masks.
  • Attendance limits for funerals have been lifted. The previous limit was 25.
  • Venues such as convention centers will be allowed to host “low-risk” events, including graduations and conferences.
  • Capacity restrictions on gyms will also be eased, from 50% to 75%.

In a news conference, city Parks Director Laura Thielen expressed excitement at the return of team sports. “On behalf of the Department of Parks and Recreation I would like to say to all of our youth, adolescent, collegiate and adult leagues welcome back. We missed you,” she said.

Those are words athletes and their coaches have been waiting to hear.

“Thirteen months it will be when we can finally get out there,” said Chris Keem, the head of the Oahu League of Hawaii Youth Soccer. He said children have been penalized by the pandemic long enough.

“Kids have to get activity in. Physical activity,” he said. “Especially with schools eliminating a lot of physical education. This was their outlet.”

Permits are now available through the Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation. And to streamline the process, permitting fees are being waived this season.

“We expect to have team games and competitions,” Blangiardi said. “But we’re not going to have big regattas or for that matter any tournaments.”

County officials outlined the new rules organized sports must play by.

First, players and coaches need to wear a mask at all times. There will be no potlucks. And no spectators ― not even parents.

Coaches will be responsible for implementing some new guidelines, too.

“Keeping team rosters. Checking people in. And the DOH is going to be able to contact you in the event there is an outbreak and they need to do some contact tracing,” Thielen said.

A team’s permit can be revoked if they violate the rules.

A request was also made to increase the number of people allowed at weddings. However, Blangiardi said state health officials and the governor refused to sign off on it.

It’s a decision that puzzles a local wedding planner and owner of A Touch of You Hawaii.

“You’re going to open up bars. You’re going to open up funerals with no capacity. We just don’t understand it,” said Taryn Magalianes.

All weddings remain limited to 10 people.

The changes mark the most significant easing of restrictions on Oahu since last summer, in the wake of which the island struggled to bring a significant surge of new infections under control.

Blangiardi said he feels comfortable making the changes because Oahu’s positivity rate is low ― at just 1%. The 14-day average for new cases on Oahu stands at 27.

Restrictions are also being eased as vaccination efforts continue. On Oahu, roughly 18% of residents have had at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.

This story will be updated.

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