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Editorial | Our View

Editorial: Restrictions can help us stay safe

Most scientists believe the COVID-19 virus will become endemic, meaning that it’s here to stay, and will continue to pop up in some form, in some places.

Why, then, should we work so hard to change the way we live so that the virus’ spread is kept in check? Here’s one answer: The pandemic threat has not receded, either in Hawaii or most other spots on the globe, judging by the most critical metric — hospitalizations.

According to the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, there are currently around 2,200 patients in the state’s hospitals. Most of them, around 1,900, are non-COVID patients.

But the highly contagious delta variant has ramped up the number of those sickened by the virus, putting those facilities in deep distress. Hospital staffers, already handling a full census, are becoming overwhelmed.

Old assumptions about what exposures are safe have been tossed out. Previously, infection was known to occur with close encounters of 15 minutes or more. With delta, it’s less than five minutes.

Unless this gets under control, too many people will die or suffer from serious illness — either from this viral infection that they could have avoided, or from another health crisis for which they could not get care.

Gov. David Ige responded to that urgency this week with tighter restrictions that, overall, appropriately balance the need to both keep the economy afloat and keep people safer.

The principal targets are the informal social gatherings where close friends and family mingle loosely. These again will be limited to 10 people indoors, 25 people outdoors. These groups would at least be of a scale that could be monitored, either by police themselves or by residents who witness violations occurring.

Ige and the county mayors are trying to keep businesses open as much as possible but have rolled them back to 50% capacity, with 6-foot social distancing required. This makes sense, and many retailers and restaurant and bar owners already have adapted.

There should be room for further adjustments, however. The city recently had offered bars and restaurants the option of eliminating social distancing if they choose to limit business to vaccinated patrons, checking vaccine credentials for each person. That allowance has been rescinded.

However, the governor should consider making such allowances for businesses willing to enforce the vaccine rule. Vaccine “passports” are becoming an option for venues; a few theater groups here have launched vaccinated-only protocols for audiences.

Anything that could encourage vaccinations as a key to resuming entertainment and other activities could help to accelerate use of the most powerful tool we have against COVID-19.

Churches have been the exception to the state’s new rules, with the governor saying that the counties’ individual protocols for churches still apply. But these have not been well enforced: Every island has been hit by clusters of infections arising from church gatherings.

This will need to be monitored, going forward. It’s incumbent on church leaders to act in the interest of public health, for their own congregations and the community at large. They should take steps, as some already have done, to make adaptations to their services with the transmissibility of delta in mind.

As much as we all long to resume our carefree socializing, at the moment we cannot be free from care. Maintaining some degree of normalcy while staying safe means a return to a hyper-awareness of the risks we face and the need to protect ourselves and others.

That means respecting the new restrictions and crucially, avoiding large gatherings.

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