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350 people ‘bubbled up’ and took COVID tests to make this year’s Merrie Monarch a reality

Published: Jul. 1, 2021 at 3:24 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 1, 2021 at 4:26 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Merrie Monarch Festival returns Thursday night after being canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic.

And making this year’s festival a reality required lots of patience ― and strict protocols.

Filming took place last weekend at the Edith Kanakaole Stadium in Hilo and no spectators were allowed. Everyone involved faced two rounds of COVID testing and five days isolation.

Some 350 people had to go into the Merrie Monarch “bubble,” including festival President Aunty Luana Kawelu, the kumu, their halau and judges like Kawaikapu Hewett.

“I don’t know about anybody else, but I don’t like anybody sticking something up my nose,” said Hewett, referring to the COVID testing.

“For me it was very uncomfortable and sore, but we had a job to do,” he added.

And so did the medical professionals from The Queen’s Health Systems. “It was a good thing that the entire Queen’s team was there to make sure everybody was safe from a COVID perspective,” said Dr. Gerard Akaka, Queen’s Health Systems vice president of Native Hawaiian Affairs.

Festival leaders say two people tested positive before competition began. Both were put in quarantine and showed no symptoms.

Akaka says teams from North Hawaii Community Hospital were immediately activated. They contacted the state Department of Health to start contact tracing.

“The protocol worked. It went as it was supposed to and in the end it protected people from a potential outbreak,” said Akaka.

“Everybody was bubbled up. There was no chance for exposure to other groups,” he added.

“The show must go on so we are going continue, but we hold them in our hearts and in our pule,” added Hewett, adding that even without an audience the performances were amazing.

“They didn’t let down in any way,” said Hewett.

Now that the filming is over, the names of the winners are a closely guarded secret that not even the judges know.

“You have to wait to the telecast. You have to wait to see who won Merrie Monarch 2021,” said Hewett.

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