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Ige eases rules on businesses, but restaurants disappointed that indoor distancing requirements remain

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said he’s disappointed in the decision.
Published: Nov. 2, 2021 at 6:39 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 3, 2021 at 3:40 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The governor is easing some restrictions on restaurants and bars, but said Tuesday that they’ll still have to keep social distancing requirements in place when indoors.

The news is a blow to the industry, among the hardest hit during the pandemic.

Restaurants had hoped that with the recent drop in new cases and hospitalizations — as well as increases in the vaccination rate — the state would relax the restrictions.

“Across the board, 80% of restaurants saw their revenue drop by 30% in the last two months,” said Ryan Tanaka, the incoming chair of the Hawaii Restaurant Association.

“So restaurants are already hurting.”

During a news conference Tuesday, the governor said restaurants in counties with vaccine mandates can operate at full capacity starting Nov. 12 and all restrictions will go away for outdoor activities.

But he left the distancing restrictions in place for indoor dining, which will allow only the largest restaurants to operate above 50% capacity.

Ige said he’s keeping social distancing in place because of the risk of transmission indoors.

“We are concerned because we continue to get positive cases and clusters in restaurants and eating establishments,” Ige said.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi disagreed, saying the city requirement that patrons and employees be either vaccinated or tested means restaurants are much safer.

“This doesn’t move the needle forward in the way we had hoped. In some ways, we are in the same place,” Blangiardi said.

“All along our effort was to get our restaurants back — knowing full well many of them are small, many of them have closed or have gone to take-out only.”

According to the Hawaii Restaurant Association, more than 100 eating establishments have closed permanently since the beginning of the pandemic. Hundreds more have closed temporarily.

Restaurants that remained opened are also facing new challenges: Higher commodity prices, supply chain disruptions and labor shortages.

“There could be a lot more on that brink of survival. People don’t realize how tough it is,” Tanaka said.

Kauai and the Big island don’t have vaccine or test requirements — so the governor left both distancing and 50% capacity limits in place.

And that’s drawing concern, too.

“We feel it is time for our businesses to be able to operate at a higher capacity. I mean, this is all a part of the process of our society getting acclimated to co-existing with COVID-19,” said Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami.

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