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Hawaii counties with vaccination requirements can open again to full capacity, some push back

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Hawaii counties with vaccination requirements can open again to full capacity, some push back

HONOLULU -- As the number of COVID-19 cases across Hawai'i continues to dwindle, Gov. David Ige announced Tuesday he signed an order easing restrictions at bars, restaurants, and gyms.

Under the new rules, patrons at social establishments no longer have to wear masks or socially distance outdoors, but must continue to do so indoors. 

Kaua'i Mayor Derek Kawakami felt blindsided by the second rule change, which allows restaurants in counties with vaccination or testing requirements for patrons to operate at full capacity instead of 50% occupancy. 

Currently, O'ahu and Maui require guests at restaurants, bars, and gyms to present a vaccination record or negative COVID-19 test result, but Kaua'i and Hawai'i County do not.

"This came as a surprise, it leaves me in an uncomfortable position to have to impose a mandate that I was uncomfortable with at the very beginning," Kawakami said. "We meet regularly with the governor and this was never discussed."

Kaua'i County prides itself on being less restrictive than the rest of the state during much of the pandemic -- and Kawakami claims his county has proven that it has gotten hold over COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations.

Right now, 79% of Garden Isle residents eligible for the vaccine are fully vaccinated. However, Kawakami believes a vaccination or testing policy for entering bars and restaurants would not be fair for the remaining 20% who are unvaccinated. 

Kawakami also said he prefers to leave it up to business owners to decide how to prevent virus spread in their establishments. 

"I come from the grocery business and I will tell you that businesses know how to operate their businesses the best," Kawakami added. 

On Hawai'i Island, 78% of the population who qualify for the COVID shot are fully vaccinated. County spokesperson Cyrus Johnasen said imposing a vaccination or testing requirement is unnecessary because restaurants and social establishments there are not required to operate at 50% capacity if they are able to properly distance their guests.

"As long as you're able to spread folks out, keep the distance between tables if that puts you at 70% of your normal occupancy, then you can be at 70% rather than 50," Johnasen explained.

While Kawakami said he is still deciding on how to proceed, Hawai'i County officials are certain they will not enact a vaccination requirement.

"More than ever right now, during this time of health crisis and economic crisis, we want folks to know that their county has their back," Johnasen said.

"We believe in them, we believe they can do what they have to do to make sure that everyone else is safe and that doesn't mean forcing them to do something that they're vehemently opposed to."

The new rules go into effect on Nov. 12.

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