‘The time has come’: City will soon allow large outdoor, indoor venues to operate at full capacity

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi announced a reopening plan Wednesday that dramatically eases restrictions on outdoor and indoor events.
Published: Oct. 27, 2021 at 12:56 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 28, 2021 at 6:55 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi announced a reopening plan Wednesday that dramatically eases restrictions on outdoor and indoor events, acknowledging the city is moving forward with allowing indoor gatherings at full venue capacity without the state’s blessing.

“We are going in a separate direction,” Blangiardi said, at a news conference.

“The state understands that and we have accepted full responsibility at the City and County. It’s a new acceptable norm. Our public health is top of mind, but the time has come for us to move forward.”

The mayor stressed that all managed events will still require attendees to be fully vaccinated. However, the city later clarified there will be an exception made for kids 12 and under, who can’t yet get the shot.

Here’s a look at what will be allowed:

  • Starting next Wednesday, outdoor seated events ― including large University of Hawaii sporting events ― will be able to move to 100% capacity. That will mean UH will be able to fill the 9,200 seats at the Clarence T.C. Ching Athletics Complex for its next home football game.
  • Also next Wednesday, large indoor seated events will be able to move to 100% capacity. The state did not agree with easing capacity restrictions on indoor seated events.
  • At both indoor and outdoor seated events, all attendees will have to be fully vaccinated. They will also be required to wear masks, and there will be no food or beverages served.
  • Meanwhile, indoor “interactive” events (such as weddings and funerals) will be allowed to have up to 150 people starting next Wednesday and up to 300 people starting Nov. 24. Outdoor “interactive” events will need to remain at 50% capacity but can have up to 500 people.
  • The Honolulu Marathon in December will have no attendee limit and no masks required.

Also on Wednesday, the mayor announced beginning Nov. 3 bars will be able to serve alcohol through 2 a.m. or 4 a.m., depending on their license. Right now, they must stop serving alcohol at midnight.

And Blangiardi said he’s asked Gov. David Ige that restaurants and bars be allowed to operate at full capacity ― something the mayor said he can’t change because it’s included in the governor’s emergency proclamation. He said the governor is considering the request.

Some of the changes include increased capacity for indoor weddings and funerals.

The city’s Safe Access Oahu program will remain in effect. The program requires customers at restaurants, gyms and bars to show proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID test.

Blangiardi said the city is able to safely ease restrictions on large managed events because of Oahu’s high percentage of vaccinated residents, low infection rate and declining case count. As of Wednesday, 73% of Oahu’s population was fully vaccinated and 81% had gotten at least one shot.

“We go forward carefully. We go forward with love in our hearts and concern for our public. But we go forward and we’re going to do that in a very positive way,” Blangiardi said.

Other counties are also looking at easing restrictions, but none have announced immediate plans.

Healthcare Association of Hawaii President and CEO Hilton Raethel supported the city’s changes.

At the news conference, Raethel said easing the capacity restrictions on professionally-organized events “rewards our citizens for doing what they needed to do.”

He added, “We have so much to be proud of here in Hawaii in terms of what we’ve done. We have the lowest infection rate for the duration of the pandemic. We have done incredibly well.”

Hawaii Tourism Authority President and CEO John De Fries also welcomed the news, saying easing restrictions before the holidays is an “important step toward our economic recovery and improving the overall experience of being in Hawaii during this festive time of year.”

“September, October was going to be slow, but it was exacerbated by the fact of telling people not to come to Hawaii then,” said Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association. “We needed to build on this momentum to get us going for November and December.”

Concert promoters, like Rick Bartalini Presents, are also looking forward at booking large events again and rescheduling some concerts that had been postponed.

“We had a lot of things on the schedule that had to be pushed, and a lot of artists that were like, ‘Well, we’re not even going to have that conversation until we have a date for reopening,” said Bartalini, who added that the arts and cultural events industry brings in $2 billion a year to the Hawaii economy with 12,000 jobs.

Local live theater producers are also excited.

“This is a day we’ve been waiting a long time for, 20 months at least, before the last time we had a full house, if not more,” said Deena Dray, executive director of Diamond Head Theatre, where ticket sales make up just over 40% of its revenue.

However, it won’t be a packed house come Nov. 3.

“We’re going to judiciously add some seats to each show, starting next Thursday, and then take it from there,” said Dray.

Wedding planners are greeting the news with a mix of excitement and caution, wondering if the reopening could be reversed in the future.

“I do have a couple of weddings, for example, in January, and they’re like, ‘What if case counts go up during the holidays?’” said Tessa Gomes, a board member of the Oahu Wedding Association.

The city is also requiring all attendees at entertainment events, weddings and funerals and road races, to be fully vaccinated, with no exceptions.

“The problem with that is you have some families where their father is not vaccinated, their sister is not vaccinated. And that’s putting families in a really, really tough situation,” said Gomes.

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