Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell on Tuesday announced he intends to lift the current “stay-at-home/work-from-home” order Thursday, and presented a “COVID-19 recovery framework” that will guide the easing and tightening of future restrictions on Oahu.
The framework, he said during a news conference at the Mission Memorial Auditorium, will offer four tiers, based on metrics that show the level of community spread within Oahu, including the seven-day average of daily new cases and the positivity rate over two- or four-week periods.
Tier 1 represents a high level of community spread testing the limits of the public health system, while Tier 4 represents a low level of community spread easily handled by the public health system.
“We didn’t want to repeat what we did the first time, where we rushed to the finish line, opening up almost everything within the first three months, and instead are looking at it as a marathon,” said Caldwell, who was accompanied virtually by acting state Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble and Kauai District Health Officer Dr. Janet Berreman.
Unfortunately, he said, living with the virus is a new reality that Oahu residents will have to live with until a vaccine is available and enough people can be vaccinated, which is not until next year.
Starting Thursday, Caldwell said limited reopenings will be allowed at the Tier 1 level, which will allow public gatherings of up to five people who are not necessarily from the same household.
Retail businesses and services also may reopen, but at 50% capacity. Caldwell said this would apply equally to big-box stores as well as to smaller retail outlets. Hair salons and nail salons may reopen with modifications, while gyms may open only outdoors.
Bowling alleys and water parks also will be able to reopen, but with only 50% capacity and five in a party. Golf courses may reopen, but with limited players per group who maintain 6 feet of distance during rounds, according to “phase two” guidelines.
Caldwell said he also would allow restaurants to reopen Thursday for dine-in services, admitting that it went against the recommendations of the state Health Department, which recommended that they remain open for takeout or outdoor dining only under Tier 1 conditions.
“Now, I made this decision because about 55,000 people on the island of Oahu worked in the restaurant business before COVID-19, and we know many restaurants are shutting down,” he said. “That means many people’s jobs are going to disappear when we come out of this pandemic.”
Considering the impact to supply chains, including farmers and fishers, the economic impact amounted to billions of dollars, he said.
“For me it was a balancing of public health along with the economic benefits and health of our community,” he said.
There will be restrictions for restaurant operations, however. Restaurants reopening for dine-in services may allow parties of only five from the same household per table, and the tables must be spaced at least 5 feet apart.
Restaurants also must keep track of their patrons, including their names and addresses, in order to facilitate contact tracing. Masks must be worn at all times, except when eating and drinking.
Liquor may not be sold, served or consumed at restaurants after 10 p.m.
Bars and nightclubs, however, will not be able to reopen until Tier 4 is reached. Caldwell said massage parlors and tattoo parlors are not allowed to operate under Tier 1, as well.
Starting Thursday, parks, beaches and trails also will open up for use by groups of up to five people for exercise, sunbathing, picnics and other lawful activity.
In the previous order, which went into effect Sept. 10, parks, beaches and trails were restricted to solo use and activities by one person only, resulting in a backlash from the public over safety and the exclusion of families with kids.
The Honolulu Department of Parks and Recreation said facilities scheduled to reopen Thursday include skate parks, off-leash dog parks, playgrounds, shooting and archery ranges, and outdoor play courts.
City swimming pools are scheduled to reopen Monday for lap swimming only, with COVID-19 protocols in place.
No canopy-type structures, including tents, however, will be allowed at city parks without a required permit.
Caldwell said the new framework — which was inspired in part by one in California but modified to fit Oahu’s needs — was developed in consultation with medical doctors and the business community. He said the new order and framework have received verbal approval from Gov. David Ige.
Sherry Menor-McNamara, CEO of Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, said in a statement that Hawaii’s business community has for months called for a comprehensive reopening plan.
“We thank the Mayor for engaging with our members and taking our concerns into consideration in creating the Honolulu reopening strategy,” she said in a statement. “While there is still work to be done, it represents a step forward that will provide parity to local businesses and allow many to reopen. Reopening is only the beginning of a defining moment for Hawaii’s economy. Businesses are still not even at the stabilization phase. We will only be able to move forward if we continue to keep case numbers low by practicing personal responsibility. Keeping the numbers low and our state moving forward is key to saving local businesses and jobs.”
When the new order takes effect Thursday, Caldwell said the city will start in Tier 1 for at least four consecutive weeks, which is where Honolulu is in its daily case count and positivity rate.
The city must record at least two consecutive weeks of data that meet the criteria for advancing to Tier 2 before any changes are made. Once thresholds are met, the city will issue a new order within three days announcing the change to Tier 2.
Caldwell said the city is more prepared this time, having taken steps to increase Oahu’s testing capacity, boost contact tracing and set aside hotels for isolation and quarantine. The city and state are also now better coordinated, he said, but residents also must do their part to move the island economy forward.
“We believe this plan is transparent and forward-leading in its framework, and it’s conservative in its approach,” he said. “It is that marathon and not the sprint. It’s difficult to move forward. You need things to line up before you move forward. It’s easy to move backwards. So, if cases surge, we move back. If cases come down, we keep moving forward and loosening up, but in a more conservative way.”