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Yes to movies, no to weddings: Event organizers protest gathering restrictions

The Hawaiʻi Events Coalition holds a protest at Honolulu Hale on Oct. 7, 2021.
The Hawaiʻi Events Coalition holds a protest at Honolulu Hale on Oct. 7, 2021.

There is growing pressure on Gov. David Ige and Hawaiʻi's mayors to relax restrictions on social gatherings.

The president of the Hawaiʻi Events Coalition wants the governor and Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi to use his group as a resource when current pandemic restrictions expire.

The coalition, which represents a cross-section of businesses in the live events industry, rallied Thursday morning at the Hawaiʻi State Capitol and Honolulu Hale.

Bob Harmon says his organization has been a leader in following COVID-19 safety protocols and safely putting on live entertainment events during the pandemic.

Harmon said he finds irony in the state’s current restrictions that limit the kinds of events that can be held.

"You can go into a movie theater, and watch a film. Exchange that screen though with a musician with a guitar, and well, then you have a problem," Harmon told Hawaiʻi Public Radio. "You can go to church, hundreds of people could be in attendance, but to have a wedding indoors over 10 — that's a problem."

"Beyond Van Gogh — which was held at the Hawaiʻi Convention Center, an event, it was designed to be more of a visual museum than a gathering — was inherently spaced as it would kind of ruin the whole presentation to have a room full of people, because projection was all around you and there was designated places to stand. But nonetheless, that too is closed. It's just, it's interesting to see what's okay and what is not. And it's perplexing," he said.

The coalition president said that while there are still a few live entertainment shows that have kept their Hawaiʻi dates, dozens of groups have canceled plans to hold conventions in the state.

Hawaiʻi's vaccination rate for the eligible population — those aged 12 and older — is 81%, according to the state's COVID-19 dashboard.

"If you want to close a greater number, and understand you're never going to get to 100%, but if you want more peoples to be influenced to do this, frankly events that say, 'Fine, in order to attend this upcoming event or show, you're going to have to have proof of vaccination and that's just part of our rules, or you're going to have to test within three days, depending on the promoter or the circumstance.' Frankly, it's that peer pressure — don't you want to join us? — that is going to close the gap here," Harmon said.

The governor said Thursday he was optimistic the state could soon remove some restrictions in light of decreasing COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations.

"The restrictions were a tough sacrifice for everyone to make for their communities, and I believe your sacrifices saved lives," Ige wrote on Facebook. "I know many of you are ready to get back to normal, and we’re taking steps to get there."

The state Department of Health announced eight COVID-19 deaths and 304 new cases on Thursday.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Oct. 7, 2021.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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