People on Oahu will need to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within the past 48 hours to enter restaurants, bars, indoor gym facilities, entertainment and recreational settings beginning Sept. 13.
Mayor Rick Blangiardi announced the Safe Access O‘ahu program Monday, in hopes that it would decrease the high levels of COVID-19 infection circulating on the island.
The program will be in effect for 60 days. Data will be collected, and the city will evaluate its effectiveness.
“I really want this to come off as really more common sense and appeal in what we’re trying to do to combat this delta variant and where we are with case counts, and really for the sake of the community,” Blangiardi said.
“This is our effort to help with community spread, to take the best step possible that we can in places where people like to go.”
Blangiardi also restricted the sale of alcohol at establishments to cease at 10 p.m. as another mitigation effort.
The Safe Access O‘ahu program does not include grocery stores or farmers markets, but does include establishments such as museums and movie theaters. The affected businesses are required to post a sign viewable by patrons about the new rules.
Customers can present a physical copy of their vaccination card or a photo of it on their phone. Those who are not vaccinated can present a negative COVID-19 test approved or given emergency use authorization by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
The requirements do not count for patrons who are spending less than 15 minutes in the establishment within a 24-hour period. That means that this would not apply to people picking up a takeout order from a restaurant, for example.
Those under 12 years old also will be exempt from the program as the FDA has not yet approved any COVID-19 vaccine for that age group.
Workers at the affected establishments who are not vaccinated also will be required to test weekly.
After the 60-day period, if infection counts do not improve or many businesses are not compliant, Blangiardi said, the island will move to mandatory vaccinations.
The new program comes after the state broke records twice in one week for the highest number of new daily cases, and some hospitals have reached capacity and started canceling elective procedures.
Chief of Honolulu Emergency Medical Services Dr. Jim Ireland said nearly all calls for ambulances due to COVID-19 were from those who are unvaccinated.
“I looked at the calls yesterday for 911. Anytime during the day, up to a fourth of them, or a third of them even, were COVID calls,” he said.
“Fever, shortness of breath, low oxygen numbers and, sadly, even people who were in cardiac arrest at the time they called. So we really, really want those kinds of calls to go away, and really the only way to do that is vaccination.”
Ireland described a scenario where dispatchers were giving cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, instructions over the phone.
“It’s that bad,” he said.
Seventy-six percent of people eligible for the vaccine on Oahu have received full doses, and 85% have received at lease one dose.
Hawaii Restaurant Association President Greg Maples encouraged people to still go to restaurants, many of which are still recovering from financial hardship over the past year and a half.
“Don’t stop eating at your neighborhood restaurants. If you’re not vaccinated and you’re not going to get vaccinated, go get takeout,” he said.
“We need you, we need the business.”
Office of Economic Revitalization Director Amy Asselbaye said the city is setting up a program where businesses that are affected by the Safe Access O‘ahu program could get free information to help them comply with the order.
State House Speaker Scott Saiki applauded Blangiardi’s decision to implement the new program.
“I know that it was a difficult and complicated decision,” he said in a statement.
“The mayor is being a leader, and his decision will reduce COVID infections and avoid a complete statewide shutdown.”
Blangiardi did not support any form of a lockdown for the island, although Lt. Gov. Josh Green proposed a 72-hour stay-at-home order during the Labor Day weekend to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“I’m on record of saying that we don’t want to lock down,” he said.
“But we need to all work together to ensure we don’t have to do that.”