Gov. David Ige extended his statewide stay-at-home order and mandatory 14-day quarantine for passengers arriving in the islands through May 31.
“This was not an easy decision,” Ige said Saturday at a news conference. “I know that this has been difficult for everyone. Businesses need to reopen. People want to end this self-imposed isolation, and we want to return to normal.”
He said the coronavirus is serious, especially for older adults and those with preexisting conditions, and he feared seeing a “sudden surge” that could overwhelm the health care system by reopening the state prematurely.
Ige also said all county mayors must now “obtain my approval, or the approval of the director of Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, prior to issuing any emergency order, rule, or proclamation.”
Within 90 minutes of that announcement, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell objected, saying the order would “undermine the mayors’ ability to lead.”
Ige’s extension of his emergency orders comes in the fifth week of his stay-at-home order and mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers. Both had been set to expire Thursday.
Ige’s announcement also came on the seventh consecutive day of Hawaii having fewer than seven new coronavirus cases. Only three positive test results were reported Saturday, said Hawaii Health Director Bruce Anderson.
The state has one of the nation’s lowest numbers of cases, 604, along with the smallest number of deaths, 14, unchanged from Friday. Nationally, the number of cases was poised to surpass 1 million this weekend.
Anderson said Hawaii ranks among the top in the nation for the number of tests per capita with 26,953 tests conducted in the state.
Ige said he is working on a statewide reopening plan based on certain metrics, including a decrease in the number of cases, a comprehensive testing and surveillance program, and a “well-developed contact tracing system.”
He said the state will take a phased approach to reopening and hopefully begin relaxing some restrictions before the end of May.
“This is only the beginning of a long, careful process, and we will be in constant discussions with the counties, the Legislature and community leaders as we develop our plans,” he said.
Ige said “collaboration with the counties will be key.” That’s why he wants all mayors to get his approval before issuing any new directives, he said.
At the news conference, Ige said: “At the same time, I also recognize that the counties need the flexibility to implement measures that take into consideration the unique needs of their respective communities.”
In a statement, Caldwell said he was concerned the governor’s actions will hamper the counties’ abilities to act quickly and deliberately during the pandemic.
Caldwell said he agrees that more coordinated decision-making is needed between the state and counties, and he will work to provide the state advance review of orders or proclamations that the city plans to issue.
But in a letter to Ige, Caldwell enumerated seven areas of concern with Ige’s review and approval process, from it having only a marginal improvement in statewide consistency, to it being “overbroad,” to it “undermining the mayors’ ability to lead.”
He said the rule doesn’t address each county’s unique issues and also expressed concern about the lack of a turnaround time for the review process. In addition, he said it would slow down Honolulu’s process of working closely with the Honolulu Police Department to discuss and implement potential changes.
Instead, Caldwell asked that the state and counties agree to share rules prior to publishing them and allow for a window of a day or two for comments or suggestions before their announcement.
He said such changes will preserve the county’s “home-rule,” while allow for a quick response from the counties.
Caldwell added that the confusion over the state’s closure of beach parks likely would have been avoided “had the counties been informed ahead of time of the State’s decision to close beaches completely.”
Ige’s spokeswoman was not able to provide an immediate response to Caldwell’s letter on Saturday.
Maui attorney Lance Collins said he sees issues with Ige’s directive to the counties.
“When the emergency proclamation came out and I read it earlier this afternoon, I was shocked,” Collins said. “And I’ve had some conversations with some attorneys, and nobody seems to think what (Ige) has done is (legally) right.”
He questioned the purpose of the directive because it doesn’t eliminate the confusion of each county having different regulations.
“All of the counties’ proclamations aren’t invalidated, so there’s still four different sets of regulations, then what was the whole point?” he asked. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
On Saturday, Ige modified an earlier order to allow exercise on beaches. Ige said you are now allowed to walk, run or jog on any beach, as long as social distancing measures are followed.
He also said elective medical procedures are now allowed because the state’s health care system has shown an adequate capacity for handling coronavirus cases, but that could change.
“For now, contact your health care provider to get the care you need,” he said.
Also Saturday, Ige said he extended the eviction moratorium, which bans evictions from residential dwellings for failure to pay rent, through May 31.
Ige reiterated the state has taken new measures to monitor tourists arriving at airports, such as requiring them to verify their lodging information before leaving the airport.
On Saturday, the Hawaii Tourism Association said 467 people arrived by air on Friday, including 118 visitors. On average, about 125 visitors per day have been arriving in Hawaii since Ige’s 14-day quarantine took effect on March 26. About 30,000 visitors were arriving daily in Hawaii at this time last year.
Extending the stay-at-home order to May 31 will add to the burden of the state’s struggling small businesses.
Nico Chaize, chef/owner of Nico’s Kailua and Nico’s Pier 38, said his restaurants were planning a soft opening after the end of this month, but canceled those plans after Ige extended the stay-at-home order.
He said his restaurants have been able to stay afloat with take-out and delivery, but before the coronavirus pandemic, about 90% of his dinner business was from dine-in customers. He said he is planning to open his restaurants in phases because it will be like opening a restaurant all over again once the state orders have been lifted.
However, he said he supports Ige’s decision to extend the stay-at-home order.
“It’s the right decision,” he said. “I believe it’s just a matter of dealing with what’s going on and making it safe.”