Six months ago, when Honolulu Hale rolled out a cautious reopening strategy chart, the slow-moving approach was well warranted. Our lineup of weapons for battling COVID-19 was largely limited to public health protocols of mask-wearing, physical distancing and hand-washing.
Now, with three vaccines being administered and Oahu logging relatively low infection rates, some elements in Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s move to accelerate reopening eligibility for certain groups seem wholly sensible. Others could be an unwise roll of the dice.
Under the city’s current Tier 3 status, social gatherings in places like restaurants and parks as well as outdoor sports that require no permit can include up to 10 people. Among Blangiardi’s welcome tweaks: Outdoor organized teams and leagues, which had previously been off limits until lower transmission rates promote the city to Tier 4, will commence starting with youth sports on April 12. Adult sports can start on April 19.
Securing start dates to resume play is heartening, especially for youth athletics. For many, a year on the sidelines clearly confirms the position of the American Academy of Pediatrics that participation can bring physical and psychological health benefits. In addition to fitness gains, kids benefit from relationships with teammates and coaches, and a structured routine.
In an effort to balance athletic benefits and virus-related risks, the city is rightly requiring mask-wearing during activities. Also, when players are not active, physical distancing protocols will be in place. A permit for field use can be revoked for a third violation of safety guidelines, following two warnings.
Among outdoor organized sports must-dos likely to touch off the most grumbling: no spectators. These requirements seem necessary, though, given that coaches can monitor their teams for safe play, but also policing physical distancing among spectators would be too daunting a task.
Critics also point out apparent incongruence in the city’s reopening framework as it now allows groups of up to 10 to gather together in enclosed settings, including bars.
While the initial reopening strategy mentioned bars, it did not attach their reopening to a tier, leaving them in limbo. Last week, Blangiardi reopened them, allowing alcohol to be served until midnight. It’s unfortunate that bars have suffered disproportionately throughout the pandemic, enduring longer closures than restaurants and many other businesses.
To their credit, many bars seem to have gone above and beyond to comply with contagion-related guidelines. However, here and elsewhere, the close-quarters, alcohol-oriented environment has been tied to cases of COVID-19 community spread. Reopening bars is a gamble that must be closely watched, and scofflaws should be swiftly shut down.
Also concerning is Blangiardi’s move to eliminate any cap on funeral attendance, which also has been tied to clusters of cases. Previously, under Tier 3, up to 10 people could attend a funeral service. In addition, the new mayor’s decision to allow “structured events,” such as graduations or seminars, at large venues as long as the gathering is “static” is a risky proposition. It hinges on attendees strictly heading to reserved seats — and at the close of the event, prompting leaving the venue without social mingling.
The city’s accelerated reopenings bring promise of some long-awaited gains. However, as Oahu moves forward, keep in mind that the state is still working toward a vaccinated herd immunity — and even that sort of community shielding against any disease is not bulletproof.
Backsliding to higher transmission rates could return Oahu to the more-restrictive Tier 2 in a matter of weeks. To keep moving forward, renewed vigilance to safety guidelines and good public-health habits are essential.