Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell on Wednesday signed an order mandating restaurants, bars and clubs on Oahu to provide takeout only and banning public seating in a more aggressive effort to halt the spread of coronavirus.
In the same order, the mayor also closed all city parks and several facilities including the Neil S. Blaisdell Center, all municipal golf courses and the Honolulu Zoo. Caldwell took the extra step of actually signing an order to effect such bans a day after Gov. David Ige directed closures of bars and clubs without issuing an executive order as other state governors have.
The closures will be in effect for at least 15 days beginning Friday. However, it is still unclear how the city plans to enforce such closures.
“I don’t know that we have laws to address this,” Caldwell said, adding that some laws may need to change to make the powers of the counties more clear in emergency situations such as this.
Caldwell was unsure what section of the state laws or county ordinances gives him the power to make such closures, however, he said city attorneys approved it. A lawyer in the city’s Office of Corporation Counsel also said he did not have a citation for the law granting Caldwell or Ige powers to limit business.
Caldwell suggested that the Honolulu Police Department would have to investigate any scofflaws of the ban, but was unsure what penalties such rule breakers could face.
Caldwell’s announcement comes the same day that Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami ordered a nightly curfew between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. beginning Friday.
In that proclamation, Kawakami points to a section of Hawaii’s emergency management law that says those found guilty of breaking rules could face misdemeanor charges that include fines up to $5,000 and less than a year in jail.
Maui Mayor Mike Victorino also announced rules limiting public gatherings and food establishments to takeout only effective Friday. Theaters and clubs or other areas where the public could gather should also close.
That doesn’t include grocery stores and pharmacies.
One line in a separate part of the emergencies law says that governors, and to a certain extent, mayors, have the ability to limit access to property to contain diseases.
Caldwell did not mention specific punishments for anyone who violates the city’s orders. Still, the mayor called on Oahu residents to heed the order to halt the spread of COVID-19.
Health experts have recommended people keep 6 feet away from others and reduce unnecessary travel.
“We believe we are a community where, when orders are issued, they are followed,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell said he has no plans to put Oahu under a curfew.
The city has begun dividing what workers must show up at the office and who should work from home. Roy Amemiya, Caldwell’s managing director, said about two-thirds of city employees are considered essential workers or workers whose jobs are essential for the government to continue running.
Those workers include police, firefighters and lifeguards, which can’t work from home, and essential workers who can work from home. Amemiya said an example of that would be a person who works in the real property tax division of the city who can access all the information they need to do their jobs online.
Caldwell said city departments have placed more hand sanitizer dispensers around offices and encouraged employees to wash their hands frequently.
“If we get those essential employees who need to work, as long as they are apart and practice good hygiene, that should reduce the spread of the virus,” Caldwell said.
Park Access Will Affect Homeless
While parks and golf courses are closed, Caldwell said routine maintenance will continue. The city has no plans for layoffs, he said.
The city won’t limit park access for those who need to walk across a park to get somewhere. The idea is to limit large gatherings and recreational activities that would involve human contact.
Park restrooms will also be closed.
Shutting down access to the city parks’ bathrooms will have an immediate impact on the island’s homeless population which is estimated to be over 4,400 people, including over 2,400 who are unsheltered.
The city is encouraging homeless people to use bathroom facilities and wash their hands elsewhere, but the reality is there are few places to go. The shelter system has just under 2,300 beds, the HONU program at Old Stadium Park has a capacity of 100, and the Punawai rest stop in Iwilei serves about 230 people per day under normal circumstances but is taking people only in small groups now.
“We’re supposed to be pushing for cleanliness and personal hygiene and this is going to be very tough for the individuals out on the streets and the few places they can go and use the facilities,” said Laura Thielen, executive director of Partners in Care, which helps to coordinate Oahu’s homeless services.
“If we don’t have those services available to them, we’re pushing them into figuring things out on their own,” Thielen said.
Thielen urged property owners and hotel managers to open any available rooms up to people in need.
HPD and the Honolulu Fire Department will still be at work, as will waste disposal workers.
Amemiya said departments are limiting in-person service and are asking the public to fill out forms online instead of coming to offices. For example, the Department of Planning and Permitting will only accept permit applications by appointment or online.
The Honolulu City Council on Wednesday voted to allow Caldwell’s administration to tap a $130 million rainy day fund to deal with the spreading virus. The money can’t be used for rail.
Civil Beat Reporter Christina Jedra contributed to this story. Read the mayor’s proclamation below.
Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell