[This story went to press on the morning of Wednesday, March 18. For the latest, visit Health.hawaii.gov and MauiTime.com/covid19. Maui Mayor Michael Victorino announced new rules on March 18, to go into effect on March 20. Read more here: https://mauitimes.org/news/health/maui-county-to-enact-emergency-rules-dine-in-restaurant-service-closed-public-venues-closed-travel-restrictions-enacted/]
At a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Governor David Ige announced the stateʻs most drastic directives yet to slow the spread of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Emphasizing the importance of social distancing and “flattening the curve” of infections (i.e., spreading out cases of the illness over time so resources are not overwhelmed), Ige said that he is directing the closure of all bars and clubs, all restaurants (except for pick-up, take-out, and delivery service), and all theaters, entertainment centers, and visitor attractions. State parks and libraries will also be closed.
Further, he announced, all services in places of worship should be postponed, and no one should visit nursing homes, retirement facilities, or long-term care centers. All travel should be avoided if possible, including inter-island flights, Ige said. The governor is also following the White House guidance from Monday to limit all social gatherings to 10 or less individuals.
Ige is asking tourists to postpone their Hawaiʻi vacations for at least 30 days. And, starting Friday, March 20, COVID-19 screenings will be administered to all passengers disembarking from cruise ships. The screening will include a temperature reading as well as a questionnaire to determine risk of COVID-19 infection. Steps are being taken to implement a similar procedure at the airport “soon,” Ige added.
Gov. Ige and Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency director Kenneth Hara emphasized that essential infrastructure and government services will continue. Examples of these vital services providers included pharmacies, utilities, and grocery stores. Hara stated that stock depletions currently seen in stores are not due to any disruption in the cargo supply chain; rather, the shortages are a result of the stateʻs normal stores of goods and supplies being swept up by the mass buying and emergency preparation stockpiling that occurred as residents prepared for the impacts of the pandemic.
Hotels are not being directed to close and are instead being asked to follow proper social distancing procedures.
“The actions I’m announcing today may seem extreme to some of you, and we know that it will have negative effects to our economy,” Ige said in a Tuesday statement following the conference. “But we are confident that taking aggressive actions now will allow us to have a quicker recovery when this crisis is over.”
A University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization (UHERO) report from March 10 estimated these effects to include “job losses of nearly 6,000 workers by the third quarter of this year, and a very restrained pace of hiring for the next several years.” Thatʻs already beginning. A recent Hawaiʻi News Now story reported that on March 16, the state received 1,490 new unemployment claims. Thatʻs a sharp spike in cases which exceeds the amount of claims filed over the entire prior week, from March 6 to 12.
To expedite the unemployment claims process, Ige announced Monday that the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits has been waived. Unemployment claims can be filed online at Labor.hawaii.gov or by calling the Maui Claims and Benefits Office at 808-984-8400. The waiver was part of Ige’s supplemental emergency declaration from March 16, which also suspended laws including the Sunshine Law and Uniform Information Practices Act.
On Tuesday, the governor also outlined his considerations to offer “stability” to families and individuals impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. The additional steps are in discussion with “business partners and nonprofit organizations,” and include ensuring employees have benefits even if they are not at work, halting eviction for non-payment of rent, halting foreclosures, and avoiding shut-offs of critical utilities as a result of non-payment of bills.
At the conferences there was no mention of childcare or cash payments to families, despite the Sunday, March 15 announcement that the Department of Educationʻs spring break would be extended until March 27. On March 18, the DOE announced an additional six days of school closure, with students anticipated to return to classrooms on April 7. With youth centers and many spring break programs closed or limited to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, parents and families are left with few options for childcare other than taking workplace leave.
Also closed for the time being are Maui County fields, pools, gyms, and facilities. This includes public restrooms at these locations. Individuals with permits for events at county community centers from March 16 through April 16 should contact the Department of Parks and Recreation to receive a refund or schedule an opening at a later available date.
County offices, beach parks and restrooms, and the Waiehu Golf Course will remain open. The Division of Motor Vehicles and Licensing is restricting the amount of customers to no more than 10 people in its main office; Kihei and Lahaina DMV offices will be limited to five people. Individuals in excess of this number will have to wait outside. No driving tests will be administered at this time, and convenience fees for online and kiosk payments using a credit card will be waived.
The Maui County Council will continue to conduct legislative business, though the public is encouraged to practice proper social distancing and provide testimony via email. Meetings scheduled for Friday, March 20 will discuss the countyʻs response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a $4 million request from the mayor to assist county departments with impacts from the outbreak.
The State Legislature has been suspended indefinitely.
The situation around the pandemic is fluid. Visit Health.Hawaii.gov for the latest updates from the state. MauiTime is posting live updates and coverage on local business closures, schedule changes, and government responses relating to the COVID-19 pandemic at MauiTime.com/Covid-19.
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