Within days after Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s announcement that beaches, parks and hiking trails would reopen Thursday, but be restricted to solo activity only, a public backlash has ensued over the requirement.
Shannon Yarber of Waimanalo launched an online petition, “Give Children and Families Access to Beaches, Parks and Trails in Hawaii,” requesting the order be amended to allow immediate families to go to beaches, parks and trails together.
As of noon today, more than 3,500 had signed the petition urging the mayor to ease the restrictions.
“It’s a matter of practical application,” she said. “I’m wondering if the mayor thought about how this would apply to families. If this is an emergency proclamation in order to protect health, he also needs to take public safety into consideration as well.”
The mayor’s order reopening public parks and trails came with the extension of the “stay-at-home, work-from-home” order through Sept. 23 to slow down the spread of the new coronavirus.
In a news conference, the mayor explained the solo rule would make law enforcement simpler, particularly given the challenges of determining who is from the same household.
Yarber disagreed with the premise, saying the purpose of the order should be to protect public health, “not to make the police’s job easier.”
“Children and families must have equal access to beaches, parks, and trails to maintain their mental and physical health,” she said.
In public comments, many said Hawaii’s young keiki deserved access to parks and beaches to get exercise outdoors, which would be unrealistic and unsafe if not accompanied by adults. Some said kupuna, likewise, would be safer if accompanied while walking parks and beaches.
Kristine White wrote: “This rule is arbitrary and without scientific merit. Families who live in the same house should be able to enjoy hiking, beaches, parks, and gardens together.”
“The solo order makes it hard for families to get out and children to be in the water or outdoors,” wrote Mckenzie Hatcher, who hikes with her 5-month-old. “Not every family has access to a yard, not every family has a house with a pool or yard to play in and we rely on the beaches, hikes and parks to go get much needed stress relief.”
On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Josh Green also told the Star-Advertiser’ “Spotlight Hawaii” that the solo requirement of the new order was a “head-scratcher” and that members of the same household should be able to go to the beach or hiking trail together.
Furthermore, that sending people out hiking a trail or swimming by themselves in the ocean is not safe. Safety officials generally recommend a buddy system while hiking or snorkeling in Hawaii.
Honolulu’s Corporation Counsel clarified that individuals with disabilities may be accompanied by a caregiver at parks.
“The City fully intends and has continued to comply with all applicable state and federal laws related to individuals with disabilities,” said the Counsel in a statement, “including allowing reasonable modifications that may include accommodating the need to be accompanied by a caregiver when a person with a disability accesses public spaces.”
Yarber, a small business owner and mother of three, ages, 2, 5, and 7, said she felt the need to speak up about the ever-changing restrictions affecting Oahu residents, which she said need to be reasonable.
Previous to the closures, she had taken them hiking several times a week, opting for weekdays to avoid crowds, with her youngest in a backpack carrier, to get them outside, especially since schools are in distance learning mode.
“How am I supposed to take them to a park or beach or a trail?” she asked. “It’s not legal under this order.”
While adults might understand staying six feet apart while sitting at a beach, Yarber questions how she would tell her 2-year-old to maintain that distance.
“A 2-year-old doesn’t understand that,” she said. “How do I say, you have to sit six feet away and you can’t sit on my lap? Once you take it out to its conclusion, it becomes nonsensical that a mother cannot sit with her baby on the beach.”