Hawaii health inspectors will begin shutting down restaurants and bars that do not adhere to rules meant to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
The Department of Health Food Safety Branch will issue red placards temporarily suspending the operations of restaurants, bars and other eateries that do not comply with rules that include physical distancing and the wearing of masks. Under state law, health inspectors can temporarily close food establishments that pose a danger to public health.
“There are now severe consequences for food establishments that do not take physical distancing and other guidance seriously,” the DOH said Thursday in a news release.
“The department is taking these steps now to enforce preventive measures that are known to be effective in preventing the transmission of the disease, especially as we have seen a recent increase in the number of COVID cases and evidence of community spread,” state Health Director Bruce Anderson said in the release. “Most food establishments in Hawaii are conscientious and trying their best to comply with health guidance. Nevertheless, we feel these steps are necessary to assure all restaurants and other food establishments are doing everything they can to protect the health of the public and their employees.”
The Health Department said new guidelines were issued to restaurants, markets and food manufacturers in late May to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure for employees and customers.
Under the rules, group dining is limited to 10 people, and seating must be arranged with 6 feet of separation between groups. Customers and employees who interact with customers must wear face coverings, though cooks and kitchen staff are not required to wear masks, but are encouraged to do so. Diners can remove their masks only while seated. Tables, chairs and menus must be cleaned after each use, and high-touch areas such as doorknobs and restrooms must be sanitized hourly.
“As Hawaii reopens and moves toward economic recovery, no one wants to see a restaurant temporarily close and miss out on opportunities to serve customers,” said Peter Oshiro, chief of the DOH Food Safety Branch. “This is a critical time for food establishments to tighten their practices instead of becoming lax.”
Restaurants and bars, in particular, have a higher risk of virus transmission in respiratory droplets due to the nature of overcrowding, the DOH said.
“There is also lower adherence to physical distancing among customers who are inebriated or are engaging in loud talking or shouting in very close proximity to each other because of amplified music or noise,” the department said.
If health inspectors determine violations during routine inspections or after following up on customer complaints, the DOH will first issue a written warning and educate the establishment on the requirements. A second violation will result in a red placard that means the establishment is “creating an imminent health hazard” and will be immediately shut down. Businesses may request a reinspection and review to safely reopen.
“Food establishments play an important role in our economy and in public health. Restaurants saw the value of our color-coded placards for compliance with food safety regulations, and we believe this more stringent system will encourage food establishments to rise to the new challenge to protect their bottom line while also protecting the public’s health,” Oshiro added.