New gathering restrictions on coronavirus-prone Oahu were intended to reduce the daily surge of three-digit cases in the state.
While that has yet to happen, one of the fallouts of the new rules implemented last week by Gov. David Ige and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is confusion by many residents about what is allowed and what appears to be a contradiction of the guidelines.
The public reacted with bewilderment to the gathering ban, as reflected in answers to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Sunday poll question: Asked how confusing they found Oahu’s latest COVID-19 restrictions and risk levels, a majority of 52% of the 826 respondents answered “very confusing; unclear,” while 27% responded “somewhat; mixed,” and 21% replied “not at all; pretty clear.”
The confusion began when Ige and Caldwell appeared together on Aug. 18 to announce the state’s extension of the 14-day quarantine for out-of-state arrivals until at least Oct. 1, and a new city emergency order prohibiting all social gatherings, whether outdoors or indoors, in public or in homes and other private places, exempting places of worship, through Sept. 16. The restrictions were spurred by a spike in COVID-19 cases that started with 108 on July 29 and reached a high, so far, of 355 on Aug. 13
Exasperated comments on the Star-Advertiser’s website and Facebook page pointed out seemingly contradictory distinctions, notably that parties of up to five persons per table are allowed at restaurants, but not in homes (except for members of the household “bubble,” who can be of any number) or at beaches and parks (closed since Aug. 8). However, readers were generally supportive of a five-person gathering limit, with 836 of 1,157 poll respondents Thursday saying that it was a good idea, but only if strictly enforced, or that it should help reduce coronavirus infections.
“Gathering of 5 at home not allowed but gathering of 5 ok at Starbucks, beer ok at Chili’s but not at bars,” a reader commented about the new restrictions. “Ten people limit at funeral but no limit at church. Why the confusion? Seems clear to me.”
The issue was one of control, the mayor’s and governor’s offices told the Star-Advertiser on Monday.
Along with homes and backyards, “beaches and parks, venues that the City could not impose guidelines to curb unsupervised/uncontrolled gatherings, were (where) we all saw residents of the City gather regardless of their respective ‘household/family bubbles,’ and we saw a spike in the number of infected residents of Oahu,” Alexander Zannes, spokesman for the mayor’s office, wrote in an email.
“Mayor Caldwell’s ‘Act Now Honolulu’ order targets uncontrolled gatherings, both indoors and outdoors,” Ige commented via email. “Uncontrolled gatherings have been an ongoing problem, and one that has contributed to the increase in case numbers.”
Restaurants, retail, movie theaters, spiritual services, offices, fitness centers, personal service, child care, education, health care, auto dealerships and real estate can stay open, as can outdoor attractions, recreational commercial boating activities and water parks, so long as masks are worn and social distancing is practiced.
And while social visits between households are forbidden, family members and professionals can visit to provide child care and health services or deliver food and other essential items.
Exercise is considered an essential activity under the current and previous mayoral orders, and Zannes added, with respect to the closure of parks and beaches, the city recognizes that “outdoors is good” and is “working to find a path forward to safely open our public spaces, while still making sure all mask wearing and gathering rules are enforced.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
>> Emergency Order 2020-24 can be read in full at honolulu.gov/rep/site/may/may_docs/Emergency_Order_No._2020-24.pdf