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Hawaii medical professionals ask Gov. David Ige to mandate extreme social distancing measures

                                Gov. David Ige advised businesses to take extreme social distancing measures on Tuesday but stopped short of mandating closures.
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Gov. David Ige advised businesses to take extreme social distancing measures on Tuesday but stopped short of mandating closures.

Nearly 100 Hawaii doctors and medical providers are imploring Gov. David Ige to mandate the shutdown of all non-essential businesses and order residents to stay home to stop the rapidly spreading coronavirus.

In an unprecedented move Tuesday, Ige asked all visitors to Hawaii to postpone their trips for the next 30 days and launched a 15-day campaign to “slow the spread of COVID-19,” which has infected at least 16 people in the islands.

The governor, acknowledging the importance of aggressive action to stop community transmission, directed all bars and clubs to shut down and all restaurants to close their dining rooms and shift to takeout, drive-thru or delivery service only.

But not all businesses are following the recommendation that will significantly impact revenue.

Moani Island Bistro & Bar said in an online post that it will remain open despite the government directive.

“Although it was suggested that all restaurants and bars stay closed, we will remain open from 3 to closing. We have taken all precautions to keep a safe and sanitary environment. If you are joining us tonight we ask that you do the same,” a Moani Island Bistro & Bar employee said in a video posted on Instagram, promoting a St. Patty’s Day special with live music by Kapena.

The government is asking the public to limit social gatherings to groups of 10 people or less and directing theaters, entertainment centers, visitor attractions and places of worship to suspend all services and activities.

Most restaurants are complying as quickly as they can, closing their dining rooms and adjusting service to takeout only. But other eateries, particularly smaller operations, are unclear on the specific restrictions and government order.

Daven Morikawa, co-owner of Bibimbap House in Waipahu, said early Wednesday he had been unaware of the Ige’s comments the previous day. Although business had slowed to mostly takeout he was keeping his dining room open, and reorganized to allow for social distancing.

Later, after learning of Caldwell’s mandate, Morikawa said he would be sure to comply.

Thomas Ray, co-owner at Square Barrels, a restaurant and bar, said his understanding was that he had until Friday to make all of his adjustments, so he is still serving customers. “Right now things are so slow, hardly any people are here anyway,” he said. “There’s definitely not 10 people in here.”

The Kapalama Center said it will remain open to ensure the community has access to food and other essential services, but has instituted additional safety and sanitation requirements, including increasing the frequency of cleaning surfaces, limiting social gatherings to groups of 10 people or less, and advising people to stay home if they are sick or high-risk of contracting COVID-19. It is unclear how the center intends to enforce a limitation on groups.

At least 94 health care providers have signed a petition to enforce closures.

“Our governor’s actions yesterday were a start, but not enough,” Deborah Zysman, executive Director of the Hawaii Children’s Action Network said in a news release. “Governor Ige must mandate extreme social distancing measures before the spread worsens.”

Jessica Yamauchi, executive director of the Hawaii Public Health Institute, warned that infections will continue to grow.

“We recently saw our first confirmed case of community spread; if we wait to act until the situation gets worse, it will be too late,” she said.

Hawaii hospitals could be under tremendous strain as more patients diagnosed with the new coronavirus and other serious medical conditions inundate medical facilities. That is why state officials are urging the public to distance themselves from one another because if too many people get sick at once, the health care system could collapse. There are also global shortages of personal protective equipment that health care workers use to keep from contracting contagious diseases and a finite amount of medical supplies.

Health care providers are recommending extreme social distancing measures that include:

>> Families staying home, postponing or canceling travel and social events.

>> The shutdown of non-essential businesses and sending home non-essential government employees. Only allowing take-out from restaurants; while mandating bars and other entertainment venues close. Paid leave or unemployment insurance for those forced out of work.

>> Screening everyone entering the state, providing hand sanitizer to passengers and protocols for those exhibiting symptoms. Requiring the same restrictions for local families apply to visitors.

>> Ensuring the health care industry has adequate facilities for patients with COVID-19. Offering free testing and easier access by waiving the requirement for a primary care physician order.

“We appreciate the agreement by our health care community that we need to be aggressive in our efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. We’re implementing the directives announced on Tuesday and are also continuously looking at additional measures that need to be taken,” said Ige’s spokeswoman Cindy McMillan. “We can expect more stringent measures to be introduced. And we want to assure everyone that any direction or mandates made will be based on facts and what’s best for our communities.”

This article was updated after it was published in print.

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