Hundreds of people — many without masks — flooded onto Waikiki’s shuttered Kalakaua Avenue on foot, bicycles, skateboards and roller skates to enjoy a traffic-free Sunday while worries of contracting COVID-19 lingered in the backdrop.
The city’s Open Street Kalakaua — which is scheduled to continue every Sunday morning through July — followed Saturday’s Dine in Chinatown, which Mayor Kirk Caldwell hopes will give people relatively safe outdoor experiences while stimulating business in socially distanced ways.
Tia Swarbrick of Diamond Head attended both the Chinatown and Waikiki events over the weekend and said, “I loved it. It’s great to see families out in a safe environment.”
She and her friend Kelli Hergert of Waikiki took a break on a Kalakaua Avenue curb in between roller- skating from Kapahulu to Seaside avenues and back.
Neither wore a mask, but each had one in case they wanted to go inside a Waikiki restaurant or retailer.
The experience of roller- skating in the normally wrong direction on one-way Kalakaua Avenue felt like “freedom” to Hergert, whose jobs as an actress and in the travel industry have all been shuttered because of COVID-19.
“It feels like a little back to normal, just a little bit,” Hergert said. “It’s a stress relief.”
At the same time Sunday, Hawaii health officials reported 21 new confirmed coronavirus cases, bringing the statewide number of infections since the start of the outbreak to 1,220.
The new cases include 19 on Oahu and one each on the Big Island and Maui. Health officials also said that “as a result of updated information,” one case from Honolulu was removed from the Oahu and statewide tallies.
Hawaii’s coronavirus death toll remains at 19. Thirteen of the deaths have been on Oahu, and six on Maui. Officials announced 42 new cases Saturday, the highest daily increase so far in Hawaii.
Gov. David Ige and the four county mayors last week discussed a possible delay to the governor’s plan to allow travelers who test negative for COVID-19 to forgo the 14-day quarantine for trans-Pacific arrivals, starting Aug 1.
The reassessment of Ige’s plan comes after a surge in infection cases both locally and in many mainland states in recent weeks.
On Sunday the Hawaii Tourism Authority announced that 2,296 airline passengers arrived in Hawaii the day before, including 635 returning residents and 600 tourists.
Most of the passengers — 1,964 — arrived on Oahu, according to data collected from the state Department of Transportation’s Mandatory Travel Declaration Form.
During the same time last year, about 35,000 passengers arrived in Hawaii daily, including residents and visitors.
The state’s mandatory 14-day self-quarantine started March 26 for all passengers arriving in Hawaii from out of state.
Following returning residents and tourists, the largest number of Saturday’s arrivals included 265 air crew, 245 who were in “transit,” 242 military, 164 who planned to relocate to Hawaii and 145 who were exempt from self-quarantine, according to the DOT data.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green, a Hawaii island emergency room physician, criticized the city’s Dine in Chinatown event to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, questioning the wisdom in encouraging people to congregate in large groups during a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Green was on call to handle emergency room patients Sunday, but his spokeswoman said Green’s concerns and criticisms also apply to the city’s Open Street Kalakaua plans.
Alex Burgo and his girlfriend, Celia Bowling, stepped outside of their home on Kuhio Avenue with their dachshund puppy, Bruno, on Sunday to enjoy the day.
The couple did not wear masks, but had them on hand.
Bowling said Bruno’s 6-foot-long leash also gives them the perfect radius to remain socially distant, even on busy Kalakaua Avenue.
As they walked Diamond Head, Burgo, Bowling and Bruno strolled maskless in front of Dick and Laurie Sparks. Dick, 85, sat in a wheelchair while Laurie sat in a beach chair.
The Sparkses live in Waikiki and set up on Kalakaua Avenue to enjoy the day “and to see people with their families,” Dick said.
Dick got a haircut Saturday, “and it was the first time I had to have my temperature taken at a barbershop,” he said.
With the number of COVID-19 cases surging in parts of the country, Dick worries what will happen Aug. 1 if Hawaii reopens to tourism too soon, especially because of the Sparkses’ age.
“We are concerned about that,” he said.
But on a sunny Sunday, at least, the couple planned to enjoy the sight of so many others enjoying a morning without vehicles on Kalakaua Avenue.
“For a few months Waikiki was a ghost town,” Dick said. “Now we’re seeing some life come back.”