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State to drop social gathering and restaurant spacing limits, leaving rules up to counties

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Office of Gov. David Ige
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Gov. David Ige announces the relaxation of COVID-19 rules alongside county mayors on Nov. 23, 2021.

Honolulu, Maui and Kauaʻi counties on Tuesday said they will allow restaurants and bars to operate at 100% capacity and eliminate a requirement that groups sit 6 feet apart at restaurants as the state eases some restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The counties confirmed those changes as Gov. David Ige announced social gathering limits and restaurant spacing requirements will be lifted, leaving the rulemaking up to the counties.

The governor will no longer require county mayors to get state approval before changing COVID-19 rules.

Ige said the Safe Travels program will continue for travelers arriving in the state from abroad. Travelers must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to avoid quarantine.

The indoor mask mandate also remains in place statewide.

When asked when he planned to lift that requirement, the governor said health care professionals and state officials told him that wearing masks reduces the spread of the virus. He also relayed that governors from other states told him they regretted dropping mask mandates in their states, as they believed doing so contributed to surges.

"We are going to ask everyone in our community to remain vigilant," Ige said. "We do expect increased activities during the holidays, so we encourage everyone to use common sense."

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Office of Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi updates the COVID-19 rules on Nov. 23, 2021.

On Oʻahu, both indoor and outdoor large events will be allowed to operate at full capacity, also starting Dec. 1, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said. The city will not require businesses and events to submit mitigation plans.

Food and beverages will be allowed at events at that time.

Those who can provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours will be allowed at events. Previously, only vaccinated people were permitted to attend.

Face coverings will still be required at outdoor and indoor events, Blangiardi said.

The mayor also lifted contact tracing requirements, meaning customers will not have to fill out information forms.

Blangiardi said the current environment gives the city confidence that those restrictions are no longer needed. He cited Oʻahu's fully vaccinated rate of 80% for people aged 5 and over as a factor. About 93% have received at least one dose.

"Look, we’re here now at a place and time where everything about this disease, now we’re on top of, from vaccinations to the hospitalizations, even our case counts are down," Blangiardi said. "We’ve gone through a lot this past year, it’s a time to celebrate and be careful, be responsible, this war is not over, but we’re ready to step forward."

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City and County of Honolulu
The relaxed capacity restrictions for social gatherings, businesses and more begin Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021.

Indoor Honolulu gyms will also be allowed to operate at full capacity. Masks must be worn, and proof of vaccination or a negative test must be provided.

That also applies to events and businesses serving food and beverages.

Museums, botanical gardens, aquariums, sea life attractions and zoos will no longer be subject to the Safe Access Oʻahu requirement.

In addition, the Oʻahu requirement capping social gatherings to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors will be eliminated Nov. 30.

Blangiardi said the city's COVID-19 testing sites will remain open for the "foreseeable future," but not indefinitely.

“In the spirit of Thanksgiving I want to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to the people of Oʻahu for their strength, determination and cooperation in our fight against the spread of COVID-19,” Blangiardi said. “Today’s announcements are about getting on the other side of this dreaded disease."

Click here to read the full Honolulu emergency order.

Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitch Roth said he would announce new rules in the coming days. Roth said he needed to meet with hospitality industry representatives first.

“Rather than come out with those ideas, I still have some people I want to listen to," he said at the joint press conference.

Sarah Blane, chief of staff to Kauaʻi County Mayor Derek Kawakami, said she expected Kauaʻi would update its rules on social gatherings next week.

To recap, all the counties except Hawaiʻi County have said they wouldn't impose new rules at restaurants after the statewide guideline goes away Nov. 30, thus allowing restaurants to return to full capacity and for distancing requirements to lapse.

The statewide extension on expired driver's licenses and identification cards will end on Nov. 29.

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