More restrictions to be eased July 8

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Visitors take in the view at Rainbow Falls in Hilo on Thursday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Praadnya, left, and Mandar Bandekar take a selfie in front of Rainbow Falls Thursday in Hilo while visiting Big Island on their honeymoon. Beginning July 8, fully vaccinated domestic travelers to Hawaii will be able to bypass pretravel testing and quarantine requirements.

The state will relax travel and gathering restrictions on July 8, when 60% of the Hawaii’s population is expected to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

On that date, Hawaii will eliminate its pretravel testing and quarantine requirement for domestic travelers fully vaccinated in the United States, Gov. David Ige announced Thursday.

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Travelers must upload their CDC-issued vaccination records into the state’s Safe Travels program and must bring a hard copy of their vaccination record with them.

“I know that this change has been widely anticipated, and it will make it easier for residents to return home and for visitors to come and enjoy our islands,” he said.

Those traveling to Hawaii prior to July 8, however, remain subject to current pretravel testing and quarantine requirements.

Additionally on July 8, Ige said permitted social gathering sizes will increase from a maximum of 10 to 25 indoors and from 25 to 75 outdoors.

Restaurants also will be able to seat up to 75% capacity, with a maximum group size of of 25 indoors and 75 outdoors.

“We’re glad to have worked with the governor and other mayors to define a specific date for the transitioning of statewide COVID restrictions,” Mayor Mitch Roth said in a news release. “By setting clear dates, we will be able to allow our overseas ohana to better plan their trips while allowing our businesses, families and sports leagues to better prepare for the road to recovery that lies ahead.”

Currently, Hawaii County limits gatherings to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors.

“With the newly decided date, we will soon be able to expand gathering limits to 25 indoor (and) 75 outdoor, which is what we requested in our last emergency proclamation, but were denied by the governor in an effort to keep numbers consistent statewide,” said Cyrus Johnasen, a spokesman for Roth.

Knowing the county would adhere to the state’s discretion in regard to gatherings, the county’s current emergency rule enables the governor’s proclamations to supersede the county’s limits, he said, “meaning we will not have to alter our emergency rule on July 8 for residents on our island to begin expanding gathering sizes.”

Businesses also are able to apply for special event exemptions, which allow them to alter gathering size restrictions as long as proper COVID-19 mitigation protocols are in place, Johnasen said.

An emergency rule signed by the mayor earlier this month already opened up commercial boating capacity to 100% and increased attendance limits at sporting events to 75 people outdoors and 25 indoors.

During a news conference Thursday, Ige said state leaders will continue to monitor virus activity in Hawaii.

The number of new cases have been trending downward in recent weeks, which the governor expects to continue. But should there be a sustained spike in cases, the state would consider whether further action would be needed, Ige said.

“I think the mayors and I are confident that the case counts are coming down, people are getting vaccinated, and there are fewer and fewer people in our community who continue to be at risk of getting infected.”

Because of the current vaccination rates, Ige said any increases in the case counts “will already be mitigated because of the numbers in our community who are fully vaccinated.”

The changes to the travel program could further boost already rebounding visitor numbers.

Ige said there is high demand for travel to Hawaii, and the state continues to hear concerns from travelers who have been vaccinated but may have trouble getting to a trusted testing partner or face other challenges getting to the islands.

“We believe it will make it easier for those who have been vaccinated to travel to Hawaii, and we do believe it will help somewhat in bringing more visitors here,” the governor said.

“We know that this will help us internationally, as well,” Ige continued. “I have been working with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other international destinations. There is high interest in travel to Hawaii, but we continue to work through that and ensure that we have protocols in place to keep travelers and our community healthy and safe.”

Derek Kawakami, Rick Blangiardi and Michael Victorino, mayors of Kauai, Honolulu and Maui counties, respectively, each said via Zoom during the news conference Thursday they expect the state to reach the 60% vaccination mark by July 8.

“We just need the community to continue to respond,” Blangiardi said. “But we’re on pace to be easily able to be there by July 8, so I don’t think it’s a matter of us coming up short.”

Ige said when the state reaches a fully vaccinated rate of 70%, all COVID-related emergency restrictions will be dropped, the Safe Travels Program will end, “and we will invite everyone to be able to travel to our islands.”

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Mask mandates will remain in place at this time.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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