Fifty close friends and relatives will watch Monnette Ilustre and Marvin Rivera walk down the aisle to get married today. That number of people is possible because Mayor Rick Blangiardi and Gov. David Ige approved loosening restrictions for weddings, allowing outdoor events of up to 100 people under Tier 3 of the Oahu reopening plan Friday.
Dancing of up to 32 people also will be allowed, provided spacing between couples remain at 36 square feet and everyone wears a mask.
Tables of up to 10 can sit together. Temperature checks also will be required upon entry to weddings.
“From photographers and florists, to officiants and planners, the entire wedding industry has been hit especially hard by the pandemic,” Blangiardi said in a statement.
“My team and I listened to the business owners and voiced their concerns to the State. We are happy to announce these determined entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to expand operations in a safe manner.”
The news came Friday morning for Ilustre, who immediately began calling friends and family to invite them to her wedding today.
“I’m happy it’s here,” she said. “It’s a relief that we are able to get more people invited.”
Ilustre and Rivera were supposed to have a 150- person wedding in October 2020 and have been engaged since June 2019. They are both from Oahu, so it was easy for them to contact family members so close to the date.
Their wedding coordinator, Julie Aragaki, who co-owns Best Hawaii Wedding, was also excited about the loosening of restrictions for weddings. Before the mayor’s announcement, weddings were restricted to groups of 10 people or fewer, including the vendors.
“This is a huge news for our industry,” she said.
“We’re probably all going to be scrambling to make some modifications on the weddings we have coming up in the next couple of weeks. But I honestly think everyone’s so glad. And they’ll be more than happy to do that.”
Aragaki, like many wedding professionals, saw business plummet during the pandemic.
“At this point we’re just happy with anything that they can kind of give us,” she said. “The good thing is we can all start moving forward on planning.”
Kristin Kato, owner of the wedding bakery A Cake Life, was about to have a bride cancel her wedding when the news about the Tier 3 modification came out.
“She was really discouraged,” Kato said.
“I emailed her back right away, like, ‘Hey, hang on, we just got word like right now.’”
A Cake Life went from making about 20 to 25 cakes a week before the pandemic to only one to three during the shutdown. This week they were making about 10.
“The wedding industry had to fight so hard for this opportunity to be able to just get back to work,” she said.
“We were doing a lot of small cakes for 10 people, but we’re absolutely anticipating it to pick back up. … It’s not going to be an immediate change. Everyone is just really watching everything so closely because we’re still not out of the woods yet and COVID is still around.”
The number of cases on Oahu has seen an increase since the loosening of restrictions. In a statement, a city spokesman said the caseloads are being monitored, and emphasized the need for people to wear masks and continue to physically distance.
Hilton Raethel, president of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, the group that represents hospitals, expected the slight increase in cases and hospitalizations.
“The hospitalization rates right now are still very manageable,” he said.
“We are concerned about people getting sick, people ending up in the hospital and people dying. But we’re also concerned about the overall state of the economy, people not being able to work, people who are not able to visit people, go out and do activities. There’s a behavioral health or mental health component that we’re all very concerned about as well.”
Right now hospitalization rates have been in the high 30s and low 40s, but if that number increases to 70 or 80, that would be a concern because it would mean there is a large amount of infection in the community — especially since about 21% of the state’s population has received at least one dose of a vaccine.
Raethel explained that there are two “races” for the vaccine happening in Hawaii. One is between infection of the more transmissible variants of COVID-19 that are starting to appear in the state and the people getting the vaccine.
“The other race is … between getting people vaccinated and opening up the economy. And it’s not just opening up the economy … people have been restricted for a long time in what they can do. And at some point in time, people just get tired of the restrictions, and they want to socialize.”
That is why Raethel emphasized the need for people to get vaccinated to reach herd immunity, which is between 70% and 90% of adults vaccinated in the state.
“We believe that if we continue to vaccinate at the rate we are, and hopefully we’ll get even more vaccine, that we can open up additional activities,” he said. “We do have to be cautious about how many activities we do open up until we get to that herd immunity, and we’re still many weeks away from achieving herd immunity.”
Until herd immunity is reached, Raethel urged people to continue to wear a mask, wash their hands and practice public-health measures.
State Department of Health officials Friday reported one new coronavirus-related death and 125 new infections statewide, bringing the state’s totals since the start of the pandemic to 459 fatalities and 29,194 cases.
No further information was immediately available regarding the latest death on Maui.
The U.S. coronavirus- related death toll Friday was more than 547,000, and the nationwide infection tally is more than 30.1 million.
The new statewide cases include 61 on Oahu, 44 on Maui, 14 on Hawaii island and six Hawaii residents diagnosed outside the state, according to health officials. State health officials did not update the latest cases on their Hawaii website as of 5:53 p.m. Friday or include a footnote regarding removed or re-categorized cases, but it appears two previous Oahu cases have been removed from the count.
The statistics released Friday reflect the new infection cases reported to the department Wednesday.