With Maui County’s rolling average of COVID-19 cases close to half of what it was in recent weeks, Mayor Michael Victorino said today he is considering loosening some of the emergency rules he imposed Sept. 15 as soon as next week.
In particular, he would like to modify the ban on spectators at organized sports events to allow parents to watch their kids as long as social distancing and masking are observed.
Of the 403 new confirmed and probable infections statewide reported today by the state Department of Health, 45 were on Maui and three were on Molokai. Since the start of the pandemic, Maui has seen 8,911 cases and 84 deaths, Lanai has recorded 139 cases and Molokai has had 215 cases and a single death.
On Monday, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi announced he was extending Oahu’s emergency rules for another four weeks. Appearing today on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii livestream program, Victorino said he expects to make his own announcement on Maui’s Safer Outside mandate at the end of the month as long as case counts, hospitalizations and other factors continue trending in the right decision.
“We were originally looking at 30 to 45 days … to just around Halloween,” Victorino said. “When we originally discussed this our numbers were running quite high in the early part of September, but we’ve seen the decrease and the leveling off, so I want to watch for the next week or so — the 30th is another week off — and if the numbers continue to stay where they are or continue to trend down, our hospitals, especially ICU beds, are not being taxed, if our positivity rate, which is one of the lowest in the state, continues to drop and our medical staff and medical facilities feel comfortable, I will look to open up and maybe let the children have their parents there with masks and social distancing enjoying practices and games.”
Victorino said he also may ask Gov. David Ige to raise the occupancy limit at restaurants from 50% to 75%.
“I don’t want to say what we will do until I get a better feel on the numbers and where we are in a week,” he added.
Under Safer Outside, proof of full vaccination is required for customers to enter bars, restaurants and gyms. Unvaccinated patrons may dine outdoors or opt for drive-thru or takeout service, but unlike Oahu, a negative COVID-19 test is not accepted as a substitute for vaccination.
The Maui rules also set a five-person limit on indoor social gatherings and a 10-person limit outdoors unless part of the same household; a vaccination or testing mandate for restaurant, bar and gym employees; a 10 p.m. curfew for restaurants and bars; and a ban on spectators at sports events.
Violations may result in a fine of $250 for the first violation and $500 for subsequent violations.
Victorino also discussed Maui’s vaccination rate, which has been lagging other counties in the state. He reported the numbers have been ticking upward over the past two to three weeks.
As of Friday, Health Department data shows Maui last among the state’s counties with 60% of the total population fully vaccinated, but with 71% having gotten a least one dose. When considering the vaccine-eligible population of residents age 12 and older, Maui stands at 83%, compared to 90% for Oahu, 88% for Hawaii island and 82% for Kauai.
“We’re not in a bad place but we do have a strong group of people who don’t want to get vaccinated and they’re very vocal. This group is about as vocal as the ones on Oahu, as you’ve seen,” Victorino said. “It’s difficult to deal with because they really feel we cannot, should not tell them or mandate that they get vaccinated. But we all know by science itself that those who are vaccinated get less sick and normally don’t need any hospitalization or very little chance of hospitalization, and that it’s extremely low in that rate when you are vaccinated versus unvaccinated. The science speaks to it but it’s very difficult when people don’t believe in it.”
The Maui mayor compared COVID-19 restrictions and vaccination rules to strict laws that prohibit smokers from endangering the health of those around them through secondhand smoke.
Addressing complaints that large crowds are being allowed at luau and other tourism-related activities, Victorino noted that commercially conducted events have strict COVID-19 protocols in place that are not practiced at informal social gatherings.