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Oahu residents flock to beaches as city reopens outdoor spaces to small groups

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Izumi and Kenji Tokikazu brought their family to Kailua Beach for the first time in two months on Saturday.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Izumi and Kenji Tokikazu brought their family to Kailua Beach for the first time in two months on Saturday.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Kailua Beach Park was busy with people enjoying the outdoors during the first weekend of the reopening of beaches and parks to families on Saturday.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Kailua Beach Park was busy with people enjoying the outdoors during the first weekend of the reopening of beaches and parks to families on Saturday.

It’s the first weekend since Mayor Kirk Caldwell allowed people on Oahu to congregate in small groups outdoors, and the island’s busy beaches Saturday showed they were eager to do just that.

The parking lot at Kailua Beach Park was full before noon and beachgoers were set up on the sand while more or less observing social distancing rules and gathering in groups of no more than five people, rules meant to prevent another spike in COVID-19 cases.

>> PHOTOS: Beachgoers return to Kailua Beach Park to enjoy sand, sun

“It seems like people are very respectful,” said Sandra Moerch of Honolulu, who was at the beach with her partner, CC Jacobs; their 9-month-old son, Skyler Moerch-Jacobs and Jacobs’ twin brother, Aarin Jacobs.

Caldwell’s latest emergency order that took effect Thursday allows people to gather indoors and outdoors in groups of up to five people, whether or not they are from the same household. The reopening of commerce, social and recreational activities — with conditions — came after COVID-19 cases fell during Caldwell’s second stay-at-home order Aug. 27.

On Saturday, the state Department of Health reported four additional COVID-19 deaths and 127 new cases statewide: 124 on Oahu, two on Hawaii island and one on Kauai.

All four fatalities were on Oahu and raised Hawaii’s COVID-19 death toll to 131.

“We’ve decreased our active case count very significantly. … We are turning the corner. We have been doing much better,” Lt. Gov. Josh Green said in an Instagram update Saturday.

He reported 1,761 active COVID-19 cases statewide, a drop from 6,367 cases on Friday. Green attributed the drop to increased staffing to help with “necessary” functions such as contact tracing, quarantining infected patients and testing.

Included in active cases are 19 new ones from the Oahu Community Correctional Center, reported by the state Department of Public Safety on Saturday. A total of 321 inmates within the state’s prisons and jails — 319 at OCCC — have tested positive for the virus.

Moerch’s 30th birthday is today and her family was at the beach on Saturday in part to celebrate. They tied balloons to a tree where they had set down towels on the sand. Although the beach was dotted with pop-up tents, umbrellas and other shelters from the sun, Moerch said they’d decided to do without.

“We don’t want to get fined for doing something we’re not supposed to,” she said.

Caldwell’s latest order requires people to apply online for permits if they want to use “canopies” at beaches, which the city defines as sheets of canvas or other material designed for three or fewer people and no larger than 10 by 10 feet. Large beach gatherings under tents were cited by city officials as contributing to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases on Oahu.

Obtaining a permit was easy enough for Kunia residents Mickey and Sabina O’Neil, who were under a large tent at the beach. Once they applied — by providing their names, address, which beach they were going to and when — they said they received an automatic email reply approving their request.

A short distance away, Kenji and Izumi Tokikazu of Kapolei and their four elementary-school children were in their swimsuits, eating under a small sun shelter on the sand. The couple said they were unaware they needed a permit.

When informed it would take only a few minutes to get one online, Izumi Tokikazu immediately applied and was approved on the spot.

The family was happy to be back at the beach and able to swim, a frequent outing for them before COVID-19 made it impossible.

“We were going once a week,” Izumi Tokikazu said. Her children, including 5-year-old kindergartner Yusuke, have been attending class from a computer at home and said they were eager to go back to school — and to the beach.

“Wait!” Daisuke, 11, called to his younger siblings as they ran to the water ahead of him.

Kalli Abernathy of Honolulu and John Deweese of Enchanted Lake had been going to the beach together but sitting 6 feet apart on the sand. They joked that they had to yell at each other to have a conversation.

On Saturday, with small groups now permitted, the couple shared a hammock.

“We’re trying to take advantage of being able to date legally,” Abernathy said.

Kailua Beach was not the only busy outdoor space on Saturday. From Sandy Beach to the Makapuu Lighthouse trail, to the beaches along Waikiki, people were seen hiking, swimming and stretched out on the sand — and almost everyone was in a small group, creating familiar tableaux from more carefree, pre-pandemic times.

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