Restaurants and bars that do not meet guidelines for social distancing and other health mandates will face consequences from the Department of Health’s Food Safety Branch. 

“Most food establishments in Hawaii are conscientious and trying their best to comply with health guidance. Nevertheless, we felt these steps are necessary,” Food Safety Branch Chief Peter Oshiro said in a press release. 

In May, the department issued the guidelines to restaurants, markets and food manufacturers on the recommended procedures to minimize risk of COVID-19 exposure for both customers and employees. Oshiro says that the Food Safety Branch has only received a handful of sporadic complaints throughout quarantine, but pictures of crowded restaurants and unmasked employees were concerning. 

People wait for the bus at TheBus stop along a King Street shop with a sign selling masks. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“With this new protocol, we’re not trying to shut everyone down, we just didn’t have the teeth to enforce these guidelines to keep everyone safe,” Oshiro said. 

After a first mask-wearing or social-distancing violation is verified, an inspector can issue a written warning to an establishment, explaining the identified violations and how to fix them. 

If a second violation is verified, then the establishment will be temporarily shut down and issued a red placard to notify the public. This system is similar to the color-coded placard system used for food safety regulations, except there are no yellow cards. 

The establishment will be allowed to reopen after 24 hours, if they have proven that the violations have been corrected.  

“We believe this more stringent system will encourage food establishments to rise to the new challenge to protect their bottom line while also protecting the public’s health,” Oshiro said.

Restaurants and bars have been shown to have a higher rate of transmission due to overcrowding and engaging in loud talking or shouting due to amplified music or noise. 

But the department hopes this strict enforcement will enhance the state’s readiness to reopen.

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