Hawaii will take a step toward an economic relaunch Thursday when some neighbor island retail outlets, shopping malls and some other businesses are allowed to reopen, but Gov. David Ige warned that health officials expect the number of COVID-19 cases will increase in the weeks ahead as authorities gradually relax the statewide stay-home order.
Ige’s seventh supplementary emergency proclamation to cope with the threat of the new coronavirus will allow state residents to leave home to shop at the newly reopened “low risk” businesses starting Thursday, but retail sales will not begin on Oahu until May 15.
Shopping malls and most retail and repair shops also will not reopen in Maui County for at least the time being, and a statement from the governor’s office Tuesday night advised residents to check with their respective counties because restrictions “may differ.”
Photo Gallery: Kahala Mall during the coronavirus pandemic
Ige said people should not congregate, and shoppers should hit the stores alone or in family groups. They still will be required to wear masks.
“COVID-19 has taken a devastating toll on our economy, and this is the first step in reopening businesses and getting people back to work,” he said.
Ige on Tuesday morning announced the retail and mall reopenings without any mention of differences among the counties, and said he had discussed his plans with the mayors. But he apparently encountered some resistance to his plan, and announced Tuesday night that the retail reopenings would be delayed on Oahu and Maui.
Ige in recent days has been repeating the slogan “Safer at Home” to remind people to stay home if they don’t need to go out, and warned Tuesday that if there is a dangerous new wave of illnesses, the state may have to reverse itself and shut businesses back down.
To explain the timing of his decision, Ige said the state needed to see a declining trend in the number of new COVID-19 cases before it could reopen. Only four new coronavirus cases were reported Tuesday, which means the state has now had two consecutive weeks with fewer than 10 new cases reported per day, he said.
The state also needed a robust testing and contact tracing program to seek out people who had close contact with COVID patients, and also had to ensure Hawaii hospitals can accommodate a surge in illnesses. All of that has been done, Ige said.
“We have some of the lowest numbers of cases in the country, and we have flattened the curve,” Ige said. “Now we can continue our phased approach to reopening our local economy.”
Ige last week allowed some real estate services, new and used car and truck dealerships, automated service providers, mobile service providers, services provided on a one-on-one basis, florists and public and private golf courses to reopen.
This latest round of reopenings will include nonprofit organizations; nonfood agricultural operations, including landscaping and flower farmers; astronomy observatories and their support facilities; car washes; and pet-grooming services.
Also allowed to reopen will be health care and social assistance businesses, and wholesale and warehousing operations.
The Maunakea Observatories said in a statement Tuesday they “are evaluating plans to gradually restart” nightly science observations after suspending telescope operations for nearly two months.
The phased approach will include minimizing base facility activity and restricting summit work to only essential telescope operations, according to the statement. “We are grateful to once again be able to conduct world-class science in our Hawaii island home,” said Jessica Dempsey, deputy director of the East Asian Observatory.
Ige said he is reviewing the 14-day quarantine for interisland travel but did not say when it might end. On Monday, Ige said the interisland restrictions could be lifted this month, perhaps using a phased approach that might begin with just two islands.
The 14-day domestic and international travel quarantine will continue well after the interisland quarantine is lifted, Ige has said.
Less than two hours after Ige announced “Phase 1” of the state’s reopening plan, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell called a news conference to announce that he had proposed Monday that the retail reopening be delayed until May 15. The idea was to allow businesses enough time prepare to operate safely and with social distancing, he said.
Caldwell said the city “will be on board” to support the earlier opening date announced Tuesday by Ige, but said the city wants to open up businesses on Oahu “in a way where there’s enough time to see what happens with the virus as we open up, and to make sure there are no clusters or spikes.”
If all goes well, Caldwell said, he hopes to begin reopening restaurants “sometime later this month,” although Ige would control the timing on that. Ige’s new order excludes restaurants, although takeout and food delivery are permitted. Restaurants will need to make major changes, such as reducing seating to keep patrons at least 6 feet apart.
Caldwell also made a case for more aggressive testing for the virus, quarantines and more extensive contact tracing. Those programs need to be “strong enough to pick up at the very early stage infections, and then to attack the problem immediately. We need to know that’s in place.”
Caldwell said all people who have close contact with a COVID patient should also be tested, along with “close contacts of contacts.” All health care workers and first responders should also be tested, as well as staff who work with vulnerable populations such as seniors and people with preexisting health conditions.
Later, when the state reopens for tourism, people who come into close contact with tourists should also be tested, Caldwell said.
State officials say Hawaii has dramatically expanded its testing capacity and now has the ability to do several thousand tests per day.
Ige’s plans also drew criticism from Hawaii Children’s Action Network, which pointed out Ige made no mention of the state’s struggling child care facilities.
HCAN Executive Director Deborah Zysman said more than 100 child care facilities remain open to care for the children of essential workers, but said many others had to close.
“If workers are called back to their jobs but don’t have child care, they’ll be put in an impossible situation,” Zysman said in a statement. “If businesses reopen, there needs to be a plan to ensure child care providers and their families and kids are safe.”
The child care system needs support from the state in the form of subsidies for child care operations, possibly from the federal CARES Act, she said. Operators also need personal protective equipment and sanitation supplies.