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Hawaiʻi holds on to virus restrictions as cases plummet, vaccinations rise

AP Photo/Caleb Jones

HONOLULU — Hawaiʻi remains among the most restrictive states for COVID-19 mandates, despite having one of the highest vaccination rates in the country.

Various state and county rules have changed often, leaving some businesses, travelers and residents confused and frustrated.

Gov. David Ige said earlier this year that all restrictions would end once 70% of the population was fully vaccinated. But a surge of Delta variant cases filled hospitals and extended rules to guard against COVID-19.

Now, case counts have dropped and about 83.5% of eligible Hawaiʻi residents are fully vaccinated. Nearly 95% of those aged 12 and over have received at least one dose. But many rules remain in place.

Germaine Malabanan plans to get married on Oʻahu this month after her wedding was delayed twice because of the pandemic.

Security guards that are required for weddings will make sure her guests are wearing masks even while outdoors, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Monday.

“If everyone is vaccinated and we are all outside, I don’t see why we need the masks,” Malabanan said.

The rules also mean unvaccinated guests can’t come. While most venues on Oʻahu allow proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test for admission, regulations don't allow weddings and other managed events to use the testing option.

“From what I understand, Hawaiʻi has one of the best, if not the best, turnouts for the vaccine, and we are still one of the most restricted and shut-down places,” said Joseph Esser, a wedding photographer and president of the Oʻahu Wedding Association.

The wedding rules are part of a complicated set of statewide and county restrictions.

In early July, most U.S. states had scaled back mask and other coronavirus restrictions. The Delta variant surge pushed some jurisdictions to reinstate rules, but many are again easing as cases currently plummet.

Ige’s latest 50-page emergency proclamation outlines the various measures.

For example, passengers cannot ride in a private car without a mask unless everyone is a member of the same household or fully vaccinated. People are forbidden from mingling at restaurants and bars. And private indoor gatherings of more than 10 people are not allowed.

“We look at many factors before implementing or reducing restrictions,” Ige told the Star-Advertiser in a statement. “Large-scale gatherings could easily and rapidly result in the kind of surge that could force us to reinstate restrictions, which we would like to avoid.”

County rules can vary, and changes need clearance from the governor.

On Oʻahu, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi announced last week that some restrictions will relax beginning Wednesday — but some people are still confused.

No food or drinks are allowed at football games, but they are OK in movie theaters.

To go to a concert, people must be fully vaccinated. But to go to a bar, patrons can show a negative COVID test.

Peter Yee, a Maui car rental employee who was laid off last year, said the restrictions have been too harsh on workers.

“People are exhausted from the restrictions,” he said. “That’s the vibe in Hawaiʻi.”

As of Monday, the seven-day average of new daily COVID-19 cases was 115. Lt. Gov. Josh Green reported Monday 69 new cases and 66 current hospitalizations due to COVID-19.

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