More businesses in Hawaii – including retail, wholesalers, shopping malls and car washes – will be allowed to reopen on Thursday under an order issued by Gov. David Ige Tuesday.

UPDATED: However, Oahu’s retail and repair establishments won’t reopen until May 15, and malls will remain closed on Maui for now, according to a Tuesday evening news release.

The move could mean thousands of workers in Hawaii will be able to get back to work after government-mandated shutdowns designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 led the economy to nosedive.

The business openings, which also include childcare, observatories, pet grooming and certain health care services, are part of the first phase of Hawaii’s economic recovery plan.

Ala Moana Shopping Center.
Empty shopping malls could soon fill again under new rules announced by Gov. David Ige. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Those businesses are being allowed to reopen because the state says it has achieved its goals in contact tracing, COVID-19 testing and keeping case numbers low.

“We are not out of the woods yet, but we are getting there,” Ige said at a press conference.

People will still be required to wear masks and maintain a six-foot distance from others, according to the proclamation.

If employees feel unsafe returning to work, they should contact the Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Division, Ige said.

The governor said the state does expect a slight uptick in cases once more businesses open. To limit that, he said people should still maintain distance from others and stay home if they feel sick.

The new rules come just days after parks were reopened for exercise, along with public and private golf courses. Ige said the county mayors reviewed the list of businesses reopening in the first phase and gave their approval.

“We do have consensus moving forward at this point,” Ige said. “The mayors are also looking at specific nuances for their counties.”

In April, Maui Mayor Mike Victorino restricted the number of people in a single group who could enter grocery stores. On Oahu, there have been similar restrictions at certain stores, where residents are also required to wear face masks.

Now, mayors need to get Ige’s approval before issuing new orders. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell objected but later said he would comply.

At a press conference Tuesday, Caldwell said he asked the state for a target date of May 15 to reopen businesses. The additional time could allow business owners to implement changes to protect themselves and their customers, he said.

When Oahu’s shopping malls reopen, food courts will remain closed except for takeout, the mayor said. Play and entertainment areas such as arcades will also stay closed. Common areas will only be used for coming and going to businesses, not for lingering, he said. Bars in malls will remain closed.

Ige said his administration is asking shopping malls to find ways to limit the number of customers, similar to what grocery stores have done.

He said the state is still considering what businesses can open up in the next phase. Those businesses are likely to be considered higher risk or require greater social distancing or changes to operations.

A presentation by Caldwell in April indicated those businesses could include hair salons, dance studios and gyms. On Tuesday, he said if all goes well, the next group of businesses to reopen would be restaurants.

Ige said the state is not ready to lift its 14-day mandatory travel quarantine until it can plug holes in the screening process for tourists and returning residents.

Until the quarantine is lifted, it’s unlikely the tourism industry will begin to rebound.

“We are working with the industry on what the conditions would be to lift the mandatory quarantine,” Ige said. “We know there needs to be a way for us to track visitors and be healthy.”

Contradicting the state’s view, Caldwell said more contact tracing is “critical” for restarting business operations. He said he asked the state for 300 contact tracers for Oahu, some of whom could be National Guard members.

“Without that, it’s very difficult to open up and know that you’re going to be OK as you go forward,” he said.

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