Signaling that Hawaii is eager to jump-start its battered tourism and hospitality industries, Gov. David Y. Ige said that his state would ease Covid restrictions this month and welcome international travelers again, under new federal guidelines that go into effect on Nov. 8.
The governor’s decision was a turnaround for a state that only two months ago was advising travelers not to visit, as it dealt with the worst surge of coronavirus cases it had seen, a wave of illness driven by the highly contagious Delta variant that overwhelmed hospitals and halted Hawaii’s economic recovery.
During the height of the pandemic in 2020, Hawaii endured months of lockdown, imposing strict, 14-day quarantine protocols and suffering the economic consequences to its tourism economy.
Now, with low rates of hospitalizations and new cases, the islands are again ready for business, officials say. On Sept. 2, the state’s seven-day daily average of new cases was 910. As of Tuesday, it had dropped to 116, according to a New York Times database.
On Tuesday, the governor signed an executive order that will lift capacity limits later this month on bars, restaurants and gyms in counties that require patrons to present proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test to enter. Hawaii is divided into four main counties — one for the big island; one for Oahu; one for the islands in between, including Maui and Molokai; and one for the islands west of Oahu, including Kauai.
At a news conference, Mr. Ige said the state’s vaccination campaign, which has inoculated about 60 percent of the eligible population, had driven new cases and hospitalizations down to a level that makes it possible to ease restrictions.
“The vaccination is the most widespread and important mitigation measure during this pandemic that each of us can take personal action to implement,” the governor said in a news conference.
The executive order from the governor comes two weeks after he announced that fully vaccinated domestic tourists would be welcome to visit the islands again starting Nov. 1.
Counties that don’t require proof of vaccinations or a negative Covid test will still have to limit capacity in bars, restaurants and gyms to 50 percent, according to the order.
The order also says that patrons must maintain six feet of distance and wear masks while inside restaurants and bars, except while eating or drinking — a measure that the mayor of Honolulu, Rick Blangiardi, questioned.
Mr. Blangiardi said in a statement that keeping the social-distancing requirement would prevent some businesses from operating at full capacity and “does not move the needle forward for many of the impacted restaurants and bars.”
Still, the governor’s order was evidence that the state was making progress on the pandemic, some officials said.
“We’re slowly starting to come out of it, which is good,” Brandon J.C. Elefante, a Honolulu City Council member, said in an interview on Wednesday. “I think that’s an important step as we kind of ease up on some of the restrictions, while still keeping a close watch on our positivity rate,” he said.
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