It should be abundantly clear by now that Hawaii is living in a new normal, a new normal that will be marked with incremental steps of reopening. And at every step along the way, there will be masking, vaccination requirements and social distancing against the dreaded COVID-19.
But it is all mostly bearable, especially compared with strict shutdowns of the past. And today, there is real hope that if progress continues, we as a community will overcome this pandemic. As Gov. David Ige noted Monday in the Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight Hawaii” webcast: With cases stabilizing into a healthier trendline and vaccinations steadily continuing, there is good reason to be “cautiously optimistic.”
The worst of the scary spike in hospitalizations is behind us, hopefully, and the next couple of weeks will be telling if more restrictions can be loosened. For now, Friday’s announcement by Ige and Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi brings welcome easing of Safe Access Oahu rules, in three main categories (all require attendees to be vaccinated, masked and physically distanced, and event workers to comply with safety protocols):
>> Outdoor seated entertainment: Starting Wednesday, these venues — including sports arenas and concert venues — can expand to 50% capacity or a maximum of 1,000 attendees (whichever is smaller). A mitigation plan is required, and no food or beverages is allowed, just water.
Also allowed, effective Wednesday: Golf tournaments with 100% of participants vaccinated; and road races and triathlons with up to 500 vaccinated participants, with staggered starts. The latter should give prominent annual events, such as December’s Honolulu Marathon, a helpful running start on planning and logistics, with hope for more allowances in the next weeks if things go well.
>> Indoor seated entertainment: Starting Oct. 20, venues are allowed at 50% capacity or a maximum of 500 attendees (whichever is smaller). A mitigation plan is required; and no food or beverages, just water.
>> Outdoor interactive events: Starting Oct. 20, these gatherings — such as weddings and funerals — are allowed at 50% capacity or a maximum of 150 people. A mitigation plan is required. Food and beverages are allowed, as is masked mingling and interaction.
Further, at long last, fans will be allowed at University of Hawaii athletic events, albeit limited at first — too limited. The next football game at the 9,000-seat Ching Complex, on Oct. 23, will be a jubilant event for 1,000 family and friends. But really, this special game should be allowing up to 50% of capacity, or 4,500 fans, given its statewide appeal and draw, masking and vaccination requirements, and the prime outdoor venue.
On Oct. 20, expect up to 500 indoor fans to be cheering on the UH Wahine volleyball team, under the “indoor seated entertainment” category.
In addition to these encouraging changes, Oahu bars and restaurants are now allowed to serve alcohol until midnight, a significant two hours later than the previous 10 p.m. Many karaoke and bar establishments had decried the earlier cutoff, citing dramatic loss of business threatening closure. It is imperative that establishments, and patrons, adhere strictly to the midnight curfew, as well as to vaccination verifications, distancing and gathering-size limits of 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors.
All of these ground rules rely on businesses and structured events to uphold COVID-19 safety protocols, while enabling a needed level of certainty for event planners to move forward. Scofflaws risk a COVID-19 outbreak that will cause backsliding for everyone in their industry, and for our entire island community.
October will indeed be a “beta test” month, as noted by officials — and it’s hoped that keeping COVID-19 numbers steadily low will lead to more and fuller enjoyment of events. That would mean even more fans to cheer on the home team; larger weddings and joyous occasions; more attendees at concerts and plays.
We all will rise or fall based on how well we do this month. Failure will bring an increase in COVID-19 illnesses, a prospect everyone should dread; success will mean moving forward, stronger, in this new normal.