In the first major rollback of Oahu’s effort to reopen the economy, Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced the island’s bars will be shuttered again for three weeks starting on Friday.

All bars will be closed completely, and restaurants that serve alcohol won’t be able to do so after 10 p.m., the mayor said.

The reversal comes just weeks after Honolulu bars reopened on June 19, when cases were relatively low. In recent days, however, numbers have soared, setting new records for Honolulu. Hawaii marked 124 new cases on Thursday, nearly all of them on Oahu.

Oahu bars will be closed for three weeks as officials try to get control of the coronavirus outbreak. Flickr: Rick

“We don’t want to reverse our reopening that we’ve worked so hard on,” Caldwell said at a press conference Thursday. “We ranked (at) the lowest level for a long period of time among our states. We need to get back to that place, and we need to do it immediately.”

The order comes after Chinatown establishments were shut down for failing to follow safety standards including The Dragon Upstairs on Nuuanu Avenue and NextDoor on Hotel Street. Brix & Bones on Hopaka Street and Arena 808 on Keeaumoku Street were both associated with COVID-19 clusters, according to the state Department of Health.

“So we now have four examples of bars that were not following the order that we implemented when we opened up bars, and they have been shut down for 24 hours,” he said.

The Honolulu Liquor Commission has issued 21 violation notices and 10 written warnings regarding coronavirus-related requirements.

“Now, more than ever, we need to really up our game,” he said.

Caldwell said it’s essential to slow the spread of the virus so that the Department of Health has the time and resources to properly contact trace the cases that do occur.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell and City Council chair Ikaika Anderson during press conference announcing the Primary Election Official Ballot drop box at Kaneohe District park. There will be 7 other locations around Oahu.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell said he supports more federal funding to provide relief to the food and beverage industry. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Gov. David Ige signed off on Caldwell’s closing plan. In three weeks, Caldwell said he plans to ask Ige to reopen bars with new conditions, and he’ll reconsider what should be done about restaurants.

Restaurants that violate the order can be shut down by the Honolulu Liquor Commission for 24 hours, Caldwell said. Bars that open in violation of the order may face fines and could even lose their liquor licenses.

Bars and gyms were among the last businesses to be reopened on Oahu because of “high risk,” Caldwell said.

Medical professionals consulting with the city were uncomfortable opening bars back up at all, he said. The indoor environment encourages social interaction, people can’t wear masks when they’re drinking, and in general, people “let their guard down,” Caldwell said.

Honolulu City Councilwoman Kym Pine, who chairs the committee on business, economic development and tourism, opposed the blanket closure of bars.

“The reasons for closure should be based on a business’ ability to prove that they can operate safely for their guests and employees,” said Pine, who is running for mayor. “Everyone should have the opportunity to show their ability to sanitize and keep people safe. That should be the basis of any closure judgment, not what type of business you have.”

The mayor said he is sympathetic to the massive economic losses the bar and restaurant industry has experienced. Many businesses that have closed will never reopen, hitting hard not just the owners but the employees.

Caldwell said he sent a letter to Congress expressing support for HR 7197, the Restaurants Act of 2020. It would allocate $120 billion in grants to non-chain food and drink establishments.

“We want to help them, but we want to be safe first,” he said.

As the mayor announced the bar closures, he indicated there may be other rollbacks of the island’s reopening.

Caldwell said he is talking with officials about the possibility of banning tents in parks to discourage large gatherings.

Currently, groups of more than 10 people are prohibited, but the mayor has said that people aren’t taking that seriously enough. He said he doesn’t want to shut down beach parks entirely as he did before.

The mayor said he’s also looking at whether gyms should be closed again or if class sizes should be limited. Currently, everyone visiting a gym must wear a mask at all times.

Caldwell also said he is considering whether additional restrictions need to be made on funerals. State health officials are investigating a cluster of at least 36 COVID-19 cases connected to memorial events in Kalihi. The mayor said he is exploring an amendment to his emergency order to prevent additional funeral-related occurrences.

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