Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is proposing that people be required to wear masks whenever in public — both indoors and outdoors —  along with a three-week closure of bars and limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people.

At a press conference Tuesday, Caldwell said he wants to make masks mandatory inside and outside, including during individual and team sports games, citing the recent spike in COVID-19 infections on Oahu. If approved by the governor, it would be one of the strictest mask rules in the country.

“We’re going to be requiring players and all spectators wear face coverings, as opposed to just shutting down the sports events that are going on. Just be careful and protect yourself,” he said.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell wants to temporarily close bars and limit the size of gatherings to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Masks would not be required in the water. Masks are already required at businesses and gyms and outdoors if people are not able to socially distance. Gatherings of up to 50 people indoors is currently permitted.

The proposals need approval by Gov. David Ige. Jodi Leong, the governor’s spokeswoman, said that Ige had not yet received an official request as of Tuesday afternoon.

The mask rule would be one of the strictest mask mandates in the U.S., as many jurisdictions have exemptions for exercise.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who earlier this month called for a statewide mandatory mask policy and limit to the size of gatherings, said Tuesday the measures would help prevent the spread of COVID-19, which is occurring most on Oahu.

“The most successful way to stop COVID-19 right now is 100% mask use when in anyone else’s company,” he said in an interview. “Adding comprehensive social distancing and gatherings no larger than 10 people will finish it off.”

An earlier mandate by Caldwell restricted alcohol sales after midnight, and last weekend he said he was considering revising the rule to cut off alcohol sales at 10 p.m. The Honolulu Liquor Commission would enforce alcohol-related rules during the COVID-19 pandemic, Caldwell said.

Caldwell’s proposed restrictions come after two recent clusters of COVID-19 infection associated with downtown Honolulu bars were reported. On Monday, Department of Health officials put out a public call asking patrons of Brix & Bones on Hopaka Street and Arena 808 on Keeaumoku Street to contact their doctors for possible testing. At least a dozen infections are believed by health officials to have been contracted by people visiting the bars.

Liquor inspectors temporarily closed two Honolulu bars where social distancing wasn’t being enforced, Hawaii News Now reported.

Those “few bad actors” triggered his decision to close bars, Caldwell said. He said closure would not apply to restaurants that serve alcohol, but bars may not use food service as a way to stay open.

Mask wearing was voluntary on crowded Waikiki Beaches over the July 4th holiday weekend in Honolulu, HI (Ronen Zilberman photo Civil Beat)
Masks would be required outdoors as well as indoors under Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s latest proposal. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2020

Hawaii has seen an average of nearly 50 new COVID-19 cases per day during the last week. A daily record was set Saturday, when 73 new cases were confirmed by state health officials. Community transmission of the virus is increasing on Oahu, health officials say, and now outnumber cases associated with travel.

Even though new COVID-19 cases are on the rise, Hawaii still has the lowest case count per capita in the nation by a wide margin. Louisiana, which closed bars and imposed a strict mask mandate earlier this month had 2,359 cases per 100,000 residents. Hawaii has 113 per 100,000.

In general, the risk of COVID-19 transmission is lower outdoors, because of more space and fresh air. Experts maintain that people should wear masks and distance themselves from people who do not live in the same household.

A study published in The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, found masks may reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission from 17% to 3%.

Kauai currently has an indoor and outdoor mask rule for people over 5 years old years when near people from a different household.

As new cases emerge, more people have been hospitalized. About 10% of cases to date have required hospitalization, according to DOH.

This week, COVID-19 related hospitalizations have increased at The Queen’s Medical Center Punchbowl, but Dr. Rick Bruno, an emergency medicine physician and vice president of patient care at The Queen’s Health Systems, said the hospital still has adequate capacity to tend to COVID-19 patients and all others.

Bruno said he’s a proponent of mask use.

“I think the scientific evidence is evolving in support that wearing a mask is one of the most important public health measures we can do to decrease the spread of the coronavirus,” he said.

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