A major milestone in the fight against COVID-19 in Hawaii is earmarked for July 8 when all counties are expected to ease limits on travel, and indoor and outdoor gatherings, as the islands reach a projected statewide average 60% full vaccination rate.
Then all current gathering limits are expected to be essentially lifted in a couple of months, once Hawaii sees a 70% fully vaccinated rate statewide, Gov. David Ige and three county mayors announced Thursday.
Hawaii is expected to reach a statewide vaccination rate of 60% before or around July 8, which is expected to trigger far less restrictive travel and gathering levels:
>> Fully vaccinated U.S. travelers flying domestically — including island residents returning home — will be allowed to bypass Hawaii’s quarantine and pre-travel restrictions, as long as they upload their vaccination records to the state’s Safe Travels website and arrive with a hard copy of their vaccination records. All current travel restrictions will remain in place until July 8, Ige said.
The upcoming travel changes “will make it easier for residents to return home and for visitors to enjoy our islands,” he said.
>> The number of people allowed to attend social gatherings will increase from the current level of 10 people indoors to 25; the size of outdoor gatherings will increase to 75 people from 25.
>> Restaurants will be allowed to increase their seating capacities to 75% of their maximum allowed capacity, as long as they seat no more than 25 customers indoors and 75 outdoors.
>> Masks will continue to be required indoors until Hawaii reaches a 70% vaccination rate, Ige said. He continues to wear a mask outdoors.
Ige said each county still will implement its own rules, but Mayors Rick Blangiardi, Derek Kawakami of Kauai and Mike Victorino of Maui County all nodded in agreement with Ige’s July 8 plan. Ige said Hawaii County also was “fully on board.”
In a follow-up statement, Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth said:
“We’re glad to have worked with the governor and other mayors to define a specific date for the transitioning of statewide COVID restrictions. By setting clear dates, we will be able to allow our overseas ‘ohana to better plan their trips while allowing our businesses, families, and sports leagues to better prepare for the road to recovery that lies ahead.”
On the Garden Isle, Kawakami said it’s possible that county officials could allow further easing of restrictions with event planners and resorts “on a case by case basis.”
Once the state reaches the target of a 70% fully vaccinated rate, Ige said “the Safe Travels program will end, and we will invite everyone to be able to travel to our islands.”
The mayors all expressed optimism that reaching a 70% vaccination rate will prompt a near return to pre-COVID levels of activities, barring a surge in future cases.
At a 70% full vaccination rate, Ige said it’s likely that social distancing requirements for large outdoor and indoor events such as concerts would be lifted.
“Yes, at 70% we would drop the mandates,” Ige said.
Blangiardi called the current goal of a 60% full vaccination rate “an important milestone” and a “great achievement” for Oahu while wishing that restrictions could be lifted before the July 4 holiday.
But Blangiardi expressed support for Ige’s planned July 8 easing of restrictions and joined the other mayors in urging more people to get vaccinated.
“The people who are getting sick right now are the people who are unvaccinated,” Blangiardi said.
Asked about concerns in Maui County, Victorino offered a mixed picture, including increased tourism traffic on the “Road to Hana.”
“Yes, it’s been a mixed bag of good and not so good,” Victorino said.
Tourism on the Valley Isle is increasing “maybe a little too fast for Maui,” he said. “I’d like to slow it down. … We’ve had challenges and continue to face challenges.”
When it comes to vaccination levels, Victorino expressed particular concerns about young people who are not getting vaccinated, and said Hawaii could otherwise be a model for the nation with a potential full vaccination rate of 80%.
He used a series of metaphors, such as Hawaii being in the “homestretch” and seeing “the light at the end of the tunnel.”
“Let’s do it right,” Victorino said.
New infections continue to spread among people who have yet to be vaccinated, leading Ige and some of the mayors to recommend that everyone urge family and friends to get their vaccination questions answered through legitimate sources and not through social media.
“Almost everyone getting infected with COVID today is unvaccinated, so getting a vaccine is very, very important,” Ige said. “We will get back to normal when we are all vaccinated. … Please get vaccinated.”