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Governor, mayors haven’t ruled out reinstating COVID restrictions

Published: Aug. 5, 2021 at 9:31 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 6, 2021 at 1:15 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Limits on social gatherings, the lifting of a vaccination exemption for trans-Pacific travelers, and even distance learning for public school students.

Those are among the measures that are back on the table as officials battle a resurgence of COVID cases and the delta variant.

Officials say they’re not interested in bringing back too many restrictions, but acknowledge some measures may be needed if the case counts can’t be reined in.

“We’re trying to be very focused,” said Gov. David Ige, at a news conference in which he announced vaccination mandates for state and county workers Thursday.

While the governor has made it clear he won’t support another shutdown or stay-at-home order, he still has some changes in mind.

“The main one that the governor is going to bring up is changing the social gathering sizes, the 10 and 25,” said Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, the state’s COVID-19 Incident Commander.

“We’re trying to get buy-in from the counties.”

Right now, outdoor gatherings can have up to 75; indoors, it’s 25.

That buy-in to limit gathering sizes won’t be easy, but officials said community spread at weddings, funerals and other events is a big factor in the new spike.

“Generally speaking, people are not wearing masks at those events, and then when you’re eating or drinking, you’re exposed to the potential for transmission for over two or three hours,” said Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.

In an interview on Hawaii News Now Sunrise on Friday, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said he doesn’t want to impose further restrictions.

He said the focus instead is to target unvaccinated people and make sure they get the shot.

“At this point right now, I have no intention of imposing further restrictions, but we’re watching this very carefully,” Blangiardi said. “We’re in a place that we didn’t anticipate we’d be in.”

Public schools may also be impacted.

The state Department of Education told the state Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 that there are currently about 460 students doing distance learning, a small percentage of the school population.

But there are already 146 students on a waiting list, and the department admits it’s not ready to go back to full distance learning, or even a hybrid model, due to a lack of equipment and teachers.

“We really don’t have the resources right now to adequately address the need,” said interim schools Superintendent Keith Hayashi.

But Sen. Michelle Kidani said the DOE needs a Plan B with the delta variant driving up cases.

“I think you guys have done a very big disservice to those students, and the parents of this community — and actually the whole community,” she said.

Could a push to increase screening of visitor arrivals also be next?

The state previously dropped the 72-hour pre-travel testing requirement for those who are fully vaccinated, but that may go away as well.

“I don’t think we’re going to do post-arrival testing, but we may consider getting rid of the vaccine exemption,” said Hara.

Hara also expects the return of large-scale community testing for COVID, which would be determined by the state Department of Health.

Long lines are already starting to form at free testing sites, including one at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

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