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Honolulu Mayor Seeking Bar Closures, Outdoor Face Coverings, Trigger System

Casey Harlow / HPR
Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced Tuesday, July 28, 2020 that he will request bars to be closed for three weeks to allow city liquor inspectors to better enforce safety measures.

Updated 7/29/20, 8:40 a.m.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is calling for bars to be shut down for three weeks, but that isn't the only thing he's asking for.

"We want to make sure that the second time we do this, and allow bars to reopen again, we do not see a violation of our protocols -- we do not see super spreading events at any bar," Caldwell said at a press conference yesterday.

The mayor's request to Gov. David Ige for the three-week closure comes a day after the state health department alerted the public to COVID-19 clusters at two Honolulu bars. Health officials are advising anyone who visited Arena 808 or Brix and Bones between July 16-26 to step forward and contact their physician to get checked for the coronavirus.

So far, the health department has confirmed five cases connected to the bars, with another seven people possibly infected.

"One is bad enough, two is worse, and we don't want to see three or four," Caldwell said. "So we're using this time to develop the proper way to approach enforcement in all the bars around the City and County of Honolulu."

While O?ahu bars are closed, Caldwell says the city plans to assess what resources its liquor inspectors will need to ensure bars are compliant.

"We're going to have to look at what other resources we can give them to get them out to bars around the island," he said. "They're a very small group of people -- our liquor inspectors. There's not a large number of them. On any given night, they're inspecting maybe 30, on a good night 45, bars. That's a lot.

"But they need to continually do it. It's not like a one-time deal. You have to keep going back."

Earlier this month, Ige allowed the city's liquor inspectors and police to close bars for 24 hours, if they violate safety rules. Two establishments, so far, have been shut down for reported violations.

But Thomas Ray, founder of the "Be Vocal, Support Local" movement and partner at the restaurant-bar Square Barrels, says closing bars for three weeks will have tremendous impacts on responsible bar owners. He said they survived months of lockdown and have gone above and beyond to comply with the city's guidelines.

"[Caldwell] said 99% of bar owners are doing the right thing," Ray said. "So why are you punishing the entire industry? It's going to be devastating. And just because someone owns a bar, doesn't mean they're sitting on a huge pile of money.

"And the PPP money that may or may not have been received by these bar owners is gone by now."

Ray says he would have preferred if Caldwell had worked with responsible owners to step up the enforcement of "bad actors" and tightened restrictions on gatherings.

Caldwell says bar owners can turn to the city's small-business grant program, which offers qualified businesses up to $10,000 to deal with the effects of the pandemic.

But Ray says a successful bar would not be able to qualify because it exceeds the city's annual revenue cap of $1.5 million.

Outdoor Face Coverings, Smaller Group Gatherings

Caldwell is also calling for face masks to be worn at all times in public, whether indoors or outdoors, and to limit the size of non-family group gatherings.

"We see, all of us see. I bet you everyone, watching or reading, can tell stories about driving around our island on the weekend and see our parks -- it looks like the Fourth of July weekend," Caldwell said.

"One way, I like seeing the fact that people are gathering in our beach parks. But there's gatherings of 100 or more in our parks, with no face coverings."

Caldwell says this would apply to people exercising and playing a sport.

"If it interferes with your jogging or playing a sport . . . then you either need to slow down your activity, or stop doing it," he said.

"I see Little League playing, and all the spectators are not wearing face coverings. No one. Zero. Of course, the players aren't because we allowed that. We're going to be requiring all the players and all spectators wear face coverings, as opposed to just shutting down the sports events that are going on."

Caldwell added that face coverings would be required at the beach, but not in the water.

Caldwell says he's very concerned with the spike in coronavirus cases O?ahu, and the possibility there will be a jump in cases in the coming days due to testing delays. He says he's considering making a request to Ige to reduce the number of non-related groups of 10 or less again.

Triggers On Rolling Back

Caldwell also wants the city to have its own COVID-19 triggers, so that it knows when to roll back on the reopening and reinstate restrictions. He says he has been asking the health department for this guidance since April, but has yet to receive an answer.

"It's complex. It's not as simple as number [of] cases," Caldwell said. "It's how many ICU rooms are available on O?ahu, how many ventilators are available, how many PPEs are available, and other things."

Caldwell says information on virus spread in the community will also play a role in how city officials react.

"We're hoping this will at least let the people of the City and County of Honolulu know, in an open and transparent way, what is going on and what kind of activities could result in a rollback."

Caldwell says he sent a proposal to the state health department roughly three weeks ago, outlining possible triggers. He says the city submitted 16 triggers, and Caldwell believes that needs to be narrowed down. But he says he would've liked to have had a response from health officials before the recent spikes in cases.

"We're actually doing a trigger right now. We're stepping back on bars, we're stepping back on group sizes," Caldwell said. "I wish we had the triggers in place before, so the people of the island of O?ahu know why it is we're stepping back."

Caldwell is also calling for more detailed information on coronavirus clusters from the DOH, such as locations of outbreaks.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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