Some Waikiki residents fear Halloween, which normally attracts thousands, could become a COVID-19 super spreader event.
“Halloween is normally Waikiki’s busiest night of the year,” said Waikiki Neighborhood Board Chairman Robert Finley. “Some years they have to use tear gas to break up the parties. It’s just been a huge, huge event. I hope people are smart enough not to do that this year.”
Jeff Merz, a Waikiki Neighborhood Board member, said he and other Waikiki residents worry that Halloween festivities in their neighborhood, the state’s top tourism district, could lead to another surge in COVID-19 cases and another shutdown.
“I think it’s going to be the same as the Fourth of July — another super spreader event— unless they shut down Kalakaua Avenue and really enforce social distancing and mask wearing,” Merz said. “Halloween in Waikiki normally isn’t that much different than a Bourbon Street Mardi Gras. I’m worried that people have been cooped up and Halloween is going to be an excuse to go even more wild than usual.”
Honolulu police and other officials are pleading with residents and visitors to follow COVID-19 restrictions, especially those pertaining to social gatherings and face coverings, as Oahu enters the holiday season, starting with Halloween on Saturday. But they’ve stopped short of ordering a halt to the holiday or closing Kalakaua Avenue to ensure Waikiki isn’t a Halloween hot spot this year.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said he hopes Waikiki will be quiet and subdued this year. He’s asked Oahu residents not to let their guard down this Halloween.
“Halloween is a fun holiday, but right now we got to put public health and safety ahead of fun,” said Caldwell during a news conference Thursday, when Oahu moved to Tier 2 in its reopening strategy. “It doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate within our family unit, doesn’t mean we can’t dress up, doesn’t mean we can’t carve a pumpkin, doesn’t mean we can’t share candy with our keiki. But really, I’m asking as mayor, we’re in Tier 2 trying to work toward Tier 3.”
That one evening of fun could easily result in a step backward, he said.
“If we let our guard down and gather in groups more than five in unrelated households, indoors, for prolonged periods of time without face coverings during the Halloween period,” he warned, “we’re going to be in a deep amount of kim chee two weeks after that, and we could move back to Tier 1.”
Oahu moved to the less restrictive Tier 2 of Caldwell’s four-tier economic recovery plan Thursday. Oahu must stay in Tier 2 for four weeks before moving to a less restrictive tier; however, there’s no waiting period if the city decides it needs to tighten restrictions and move backward.
To move to Tier 3 no earlier than Nov. 19, Oahu must maintain a seven-day average case count of 49 or fewer and a seven-day average positivity rate of 2.49% or lower for 14 consecutive days at the end of the four-week period. Sunday’s seven-day average case count was 54, and the positivity rate was 2.3%.
Given the risks, Waikiki Neighborhood Board member Kathryn Henski said she would have preferred that the city lock down Waikiki for this year’s Halloween.
“I don’t know if Mayor Caldwell’s warnings will have any effect whatsoever. People don’t always follow rules and Waikiki is getting more crowded. Right now I’m looking at the Honolulu Zoo parking lot, and there isn’t a space available and there are so many people walking down the street, some without masks,” Henski said Sunday afternoon. “I’m praying for rain on Halloween night to dampen the crowds.”
Merz said if the Honolulu Police Department won’t close Kalakaua Avenue to Halloween traffic, at the very least, he hopes they’ll step up enforcement. However, he fears that the city isn’t taking potential Halloween risks seriously enough.
“We expressed our concern about Halloween to the HPD officers present at the October Waikiki Neighborhood Board meeting, and they told us that they don’t plan to do anything special for the holiday,” Merz said. “We need boots on the ground to show up on Halloween and shut her down.”
Merz said residents and visitors seem to have a challenging enough time following rules when it’s not Halloween.
To be sure, on Sunday the Honolulu Police Department posted a message on its Facebook page, reminding people to follow the city’s guidelines on social gathering and face coverings.
“Whether it’s at the beach or someone’s home, it’s still illegal to have more than five persons from different households together,” HPD’s post read. “Every day of the week, 24/7. This is the most common report to the hot line. The second most frequent is not wearing a face covering. C’mon gang, we all want to get to Tier 3. People who don’t follow the rules hurt all of us.”
Masks also cropped up on at least one Waikiki statue Sunday as a reminder to follow rules. Caldwell’s emergency order No. 5, 808ne.ws/facemaskorder, requires that “all individuals within the city shall wear face coverings while outdoors in public spaces when maintaining a physical distance of six (6) feet from other individuals (who are not members of the same household or living unit) is not feasible.”
The order specifies that face coverings are made of “tightly woven fabric without holes, vents, or valves that is secured to the head with either ties or straps, or simply wrapped and tied around the wearer’s nose and mouth.”
So, according to the city’s definition of face coverings, not all Halloween masks will make the cut. Note, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t recommend wearing masks over masks, which might make it difficult for people to breathe through their costumes.
Under Tier 2, Saturday’s Halloween observations are still limited to gatherings of no more than five persons from different households together. The city says if multiple families are going trick-or- treating together, physical distancing of at least 6 feet must be maintained.
The city is allowing trick-or-treating as a moderately risky activity, although Caldwell has said that he would prefer that people celebrate Halloween at home.
The city is prohibiting other Halloween events this year, unless they are drive-thru, with no more than five people assisting in the event. Cars are restricted to occupants from the same family to adhere to social distancing requirements.
Physically distanced costume walks are allowed, but all participants must be in groups of five or fewer and physical distancing must be maintained.
Social gatherings at Thanksgiving have a chance to go up to 10 people from different households, but only if people stay diligent to prevent COVID-19 cases spiking like they did after the Memorial Day and Fourth of July holidays.
The limit on social gatherings expands to 10 people if Oahu reaches Tier 3.
Star-Advertiser reporter Nina Wu contributed to this story.