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Stricter coronavirus rules issued for Hawaii’s outdoor activities to enforce social distancing

  • BRUCE ASATO / MARCH 24
                                After reports that hikers on trails are ignoring social-distancing guidelines, the state has placed new restrictions at parks and beaches forbidding groups of more than two people except for members of the same family or household.

    BRUCE ASATO / MARCH 24

    After reports that hikers on trails are ignoring social-distancing guidelines, the state has placed new restrictions at parks and beaches forbidding groups of more than two people except for members of the same family or household.

On his daily walk around his Kailua neighborhood, Greg Robertson can see crowds of hikers high up on the Pill Box trail, and, knowing the novel coronavirus readily spreads through droplets expelled by coughing, sneezing and possibly breathing, this worries him.

“Every day, I see many people passing each other where the trail is not wide enough for social distancing,” said Robertson, who has hiked there many times.

“Also, some of them are running in stretches, so I expect they are breathing heavily and expelling a lot of (droplets),” said the retired Dillingham Corp. executive, adding he wished people would forgo hiking in order “to get this thing behind us, reduce infections to the minimal number and let people get to work.”

Turns out, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and Gov. David Ige have been having similar concerns as they received reports of hikers, beachgoers and other outdoor enthusiasts ignoring social distancing.

As a result, on Friday, the state closed all Hawaii beaches, and new, strict social-distancing requirements were imposed for boating, fishing, gathering and hiking in state waters and parks by order of Ige in a fifth supplementary proclamation to his emergency rules.

While active exercising in the ocean is still permitted, hiking, boating, fishing and gathering in groups of more than two is forbidden except for members of the same family or others who live together at the same address.

“We encouraged more severe restrictions after our law enforcement officers (from the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement) and many people noted large groups of people continuing to congregate on beaches in close proximity to one another,” DLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case said in an announcement of the latest restrictions.

Under the beach closures, no sitting, standing, lying down or lounging on beaches and sandbars will be allowed, but people can still cross beaches to access the ocean for exercise like surfing, solo paddling and swimming, so long as social distancing of at least 6 feet between people is kept.

In a boat as well, “both people on the boat are required to maintain physical distancing of 6 feet from one another, as is reasonably possible.”

Boats are further ordered to keep 20 feet away from one another. The rules apply to all boats out of the state’s small boat harbors, said AJ McWhorter, DLNR communications specialist.

Family groups also will need to maintain a distance of not less than 20 feet from others on trails, McWhorter said.

“Social-distancing requirements are necessary for all of us to practice until COVID-19 is brought under control here in Hawaii,” Case said, noting the latest proclamation “will allow people to still get outside and enjoy nature.”

Violations of the emergency rules are a petty misdemeanor and could result in fines of up to $5,000 and one year in jail, or both.

For a list of state parks closed due to social- distancing precautions, visit dlnr.hawaii.gov/dsp/.

Asked what he thought of the new rules, “I don’t think it’s realistic and there’s actually no way the state could really enforce this,” Robertson said, adding he would prefer the state close all hiking trails.

“With so many people here out of work who don’t have savings, if we have to give up hiking our favorite trail or running on our favorite beach until the crisis passes, we need to do that,” he said.

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