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Visitors to Oahu will face confusing COVID-19 restrictions

                                Beach activity has increased since restrictions were eased, allowing groups of up to five people to gather and tents to be pitched with a daily permit. Above, beachgoers filled the shores of Waikiki on Sunday.
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Beach activity has increased since restrictions were eased, allowing groups of up to five people to gather and tents to be pitched with a daily permit. Above, beachgoers filled the shores of Waikiki on Sunday.

The first visitors to arrive on Oahu under the pre-arrivals testing program will face a long list of restrictions along with their sun, sand and surf.

Trans-Pacific travelers who are eligible to bypass the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine will begin arriving in Hawaii on Oct 15. For their first six days at least, tourists on Oahu will find themselves under the island’s tightest level of restrictions, known as Tier 1, which limits indoor and outdoor gatherings to five people, keeps bars and nightclubs closed and forbids helicopter tours.

“Everyone recognizes that it won’t be a Hawaii dream vacation with all the trimmings (at the start). But let’s not compound the problem by being too restrictive,” said Mufi Hannemann, CEO of the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association. “We can’t open for people to come here and basically have them holed up in their rooms.”

Oahu’s phased economic reopening plan includes four tiers of progressively looser restrictions. The plan, which began Thursday, will keep Oahu in each tier for a minimum of four weeks. To move to the next, less restrictive tier, Oahu’s seven-day average new case count must stay below 100 and its test positivity rate must be below 5% for the last two weeks of the four week period.

Sunday’s COVID-19 benchmarks kept Oahu heading toward the next level of economic reopening. It was Oahu’s fourth straight day with new COVID-19 cases below 100 and a positivity rate below 5%.

Hawaii Department of Health officials on Sunday reported one new coronavirus- related death on Oahu and 98 new infections statewide, bringing the totals since the start of the pandemic to 132 fatalities and 12,116 cases.

The new infection cases in Hawaii on Sunday included 91 on Oahu and seven on Hawaii island.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Sunday that there are 148 COVID-19 patients in Hawaii hospitals, which he said is one of the state’s lowest coronavirus hospitalization numbers in the past two months.

As of Sunday, 1,829 infections are considered active cases statewide, with a total of 10,155 patients now classified by health officials as “released from isolation,” or 84% of those infected.

While COVID-19 trends are headed in the right direction, government lockdowns are likely to remain for some time. Public health is a priority for many in the community. Still, they’ve grown frustrated trying to keep up with all the restrictions and modifications.

One recent order that some business owners and diners have found perplexing is the requirement that Oahu restaurants limit dine-in seating to 50% of their capacity and to tables of no more than five people from the same household. Also, restaurants that serve alcohol have to make sure that alcohol service stops at 10 p.m.

Limiting dining groups to the same household means those who live alone can’t eat in a restaurant with a companion. Couples who don’t live together can’t go on dates and co-workers and friends can’t go to lunch. Extended and large families can stay together in a lodging unit, but they can’t dine together at the same table.

“It’s discrimination against single people,” said Honolulu resident Margaret Murchie. “Why should we have to eat alone?”

“(Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell) is trying to make sure that we don’t get careless with community spread, but it’s an overreach,” Hannemann said.

Hannemann said most complaints about the new dining-in limit are coming from locals because family is very loosely defined in Hawaii. Hannemann said he expects additional visitor industry complaints will come once businesses have fully reviewed the order.

“We said we’re loosening up travel for tourism so let’s allow businesses to operate,” Hannemann said. “Let’s not tie their hands.”

Oahu’s dining limitations are so new that many restaurants are still trying to figure out how to enforce them. Sam Shenkus, Royal Hawaiian Center vice president and director of marketing, said several of the center’s restaurants have told her that they are asking patrons if they are from the same household. Then, they are inputting contact information into a sign-in system that can be used for contact tracing.

“They haven’t asked for driver’s licenses, they are assuming people are being honest,” Shenkus said. “There aren’t very many customers and they don’t want to be confrontational. But they haven’t had a problem where someone refused to give them the information.”

Lynette Eastman, general manager of the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club in Waikiki, said it’s puzzling that the city’s Tier 1 reopening plan bans unrelated people from dining together when up to five people are allowed to gather outdoors.

Eastman said the city order doesn’t spell out dining enforcement requirements, so she’s not requiring driver’s licenses at Mahina & Sun’s either.

“I feel like acting like Attila the Hun or prison is the wrong direction,” she said. “We are still trying to adjust to everything, especially the order, which isn’t very clear.”

Another common topic of debate is the mask requirements, which if very strictly enforced, could mean that some visitors go home with “mask tans.”

Technically people sitting at pool decks or on the beach are supposed to wear masks if they aren’t in the water. However, restaurants allow patrons who have been seated at a social distance from other tables to take their masks off to eat.

“We have to use common sense. We’re allowing guests who are using the pool lanai to take their masks off once they are seated, if they are eating food from our restaurant,” Eastman said.

While Oahu’s restrictions are the most pressing for Eastman’s hotel operations, she’s also hoping for more clarity on neighbor island restrictions. Gov. David Ige has given each island mayor the power to develop their own interisland reopening plans to submit for his approval.

“We’ve still got lots of questions about the neighbor islands. Will they reopen Oct. 15 too?” Eastman said. “We need information for kamaaina travelers and those that want to island hop.”

Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, stressed the need for a strong visitor industry communication plan Wednesday at the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s marketing meeting.

“Is there a communications plan as it relates to the orders, because as you know, City and County of Honolulu’s orders are different than other islands. How is that communicated as far as restaurant restrictions, retail, etc.,” Menor-McNamara asked Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau officials.

HVCB president and CEO John Monahan said officials hadn’t sent out such information to members, but were working on a “flying into Hawaii” chart, with the information that visitors need from their pre-arrivals test to leaving the airport.

“On Oct. 15, we believe we’ll see a heavy percentage of repeat visitors, but those repeat visitors are probably not going to see the same Hawaii that they are used to and that is concerning,” Monahan said. “We don’t want to discourage them from coming, but they are seeing it in their communities too, so it shouldn’t be a shock to them.”

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