Waikiki is now home to dozens of new COVID-19 safety banners that grace various lampposts along the main stretch of Kalakaua Avenue, serving as reminder of the rules for surfers, visitors and beachgoers passing by.
The banners, which hang from 36 lampposts from the Hawai‘i Convention Center to Kapahulu Avenue, include visuals and words reminding people of the 3 “W’s” — “Wear Your Mask,” “Watch Your Distance” and “Wash Your Hands” — along with the phrase “Live Aloha!” at the bottom.
The banners resulted from a partnership between the city and the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association as part of a campaign to remind the public of these three rules in the battle against the new coronavirus.
“Waikiki is such an important jewel in the composition of our city, and so these banners are not only for tourists, but for our residents to remind people of the basics as we fight each and every day to get back to a place of normalcy,” said Mayor Rick Blangiardi. “Waikiki is just so very special. … We’re very grateful for the partnership that took place. This is one of the most efficient things we’ve been able to do, and it’s so appropriate.”
Mufi Hannemann, president and CEO of HLTA, said during his daily strolls of Waikiki, when he verbally reminds people of the rules, he can now point up and say, “Hey, look what those banners say.”
The banners cost an estimated $9,000, he said, with about two-thirds of it funded by federal coronavirus aid funds. The city footed installation costs; HLTA paid for the design.
Honolulu Police Department Deputy Chief John McCarthy welcomed the banners, saying it would help officers do their jobs in gaining compliance with COVID-19 rules.
“We want to gain compliance,” he said. “We don’t want to be the bad guys arresting everyone or citing everyone. Now officers can point, making clear what people need to do.”
McCarthy could not say how many citations have been issued for noncompliance with mask-wearing or COVID-19 restrictions in Waikiki, saying HPD does not track those statistics, but that it is far fewer than at the beginning of the pandemic.
“It’s just a few, and it’s mainly the more egregious behavior, not so much the mask-wearing,” he said. “The officers go out of their way to tell people daily you need to have a mask, you need to social-distance.”
Based on his observations driving around Waikiki these days, he said mask- wearing compliance was at nearly 100%.
Angela Keen of the Hawaii Quarantine Kapu Breakers, a volunteer community group that monitors compliance with COVID-19 rules, welcomed the banners but said more needs to be done to educate visitors at every touch point — from the minute they book their flights online to their arrival at the airport, their check-in at hotels and throughout their visit.
Hotels could, for instance, offer a “wear your mask” tag in rooms, reminding people to wear masks when leaving hotel rooms.
“I think it’s great, and I’m glad they’re listening to us,” she said. “Educational marketing is something I’ve been talking about since the beginning. My hope is that it’s effective and that the message is clear: The mask mandate is not a suggestion. It’s a mandate.”
Group members have been observing a lack of compliance with mask- wearing, particularly in tourist districts like Waikiki and Lahaina, and say the rules are not being enforced. Some volunteers say that visitors, when reminded, will say they did not need to wear a mask because they had been tested or vaccinated.
Under current Honolulu County rules, masks must be worn at all times when indoors, and outdoors when a 6-foot distance cannot be maintained from those who are not part of one’s household — regardless of whether one has been tested or vaccinated.
Some visitors walking along Kalakaua Avenue on Thursday did not notice the new banners.
Cathy Fernandes, a visitor from Phoenix, said she did not notice them until they were pointed out to her on a lamppost.
She and her companion had face masks on, and noticed signs about mask-wearing at the Honolulu airport, but said they did not get any further information from their hotel and were not aware of what the rules were in Hawaii. In Arizona, they said, rules regarding mask-wearing are pretty lax.
They planned to enjoy the beach, attend a luau and visit the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor during their stay.
Officials said regardless of who notices them, the banners serve as a visible way to remind people of the COVID safety rules.
Blangiardi also said he was encouraged by the lower coronavirus case numbers for Oahu over the past few days, with seven- day averages getting closer to qualifying for Tier 3 under the current framework. He will see what numbers look like following Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine’s Day, he said, before proposing the easing of restrictions in late February.
Gov. David Ige and state Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char, however, would ultimately make those decisions, he said.