Church buildings are exempt from Hawaii’s new COVID-19 restrictions

In late July, the Hawaii Department of Health warned that places of worship, along with restaurants, shelters and social gatherings, continued to be among the scenes where clusters of COVID-19 cases broke out. A combination of unvaccinated people; failure to wear masks indoors despite the governor’s mask mandate; and prolonged socializing with food and drink increased the risks in churches and other religious institutions, according to cluster reports from the health ministry.

But when Governor David Ige announced on Tuesday that he would immediately strictly limit the number of people who can occupy social facilities, reintroduce social distancing requirements and prohibit mixing to curb the rising number of COVID-19 cases , he has excluded churches from it. While the governor initially said during a press conference that the restrictions would affect “all indoor activities,” including churches, the governor’s office later said he had mispronounced.

“Churches are not covered by these recent restrictions as counties already have specific rules for churches, each with their own needs,” Jodi Leong, a governor’s spokeswoman, said via email on Wednesday. “The governor didn’t think there was a common way to restrict all churches. However, the counties can still take measures against church restrictions. “

However, a review of the district’s regulations to protect the public from the spread of COVID-19 revealed few restrictions on places of worship.

The current Honolulu City and County tier system does not list any restrictions on the number of people who can gather for indoor spiritual service.

In Hawaii County, “places of worship had the ability to operate to any capacity where they could safely accommodate people using appropriate COVID-19 containment protocols,” said Cyrus Johnasen, a county spokesman, via email.

“The rise in cases is undoubtedly worrying. Since taking office, our administration has been working diligently with various places of worship to ensure compliance and the safety of our residents, ”said Johnasen via email. “Based on the governor’s instructions, we will continue to work with our places of worship to reduce the risk of spread while maintaining their constitutional rights to worship.”

Maui County didn’t respond to a request about COVID-19 regulations for places of worship, while Kauai churches have a 75% capacity limit, said Sarah Blane, chief of staff for Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami. This was the case for all companies before the governor’s executive order.

None of the county’s mayors responded when asked if tighter restrictions on places of worship should be in place, given the outbreaks in churches that continued throughout the pandemic. Some churches have even openly opposed the government’s security mandates.

In March, state health officials took the unusual step of publicly urging the Royal Cathedral in Kahului to cancel all upcoming in-person events and offer virtual services until a growing group of COVID-19 cases was contained.

Health officials had previously urged the church to take containment measures such as isolation, quarantine and a switch to virtual services, as well as other preventive measures to help contain the spread. However, officials later found another transmission of the virus as the church continued to host personal services, a youth conference, and other gatherings. The Maui outbreak has been linked to at least 77 cases.

Earlier this month, state health officials issued a public warning that anyone participating in Lihue Missionary Church youth field trips on July 25th and 31st may have been exposed to COVID-19. The Ministry of Health typically does not disclose specific sites of infection, but in this case church leaders did not cooperate with the contact tracing efforts, according to state officials, which led to the public warning.

Health Department officials said they were particularly concerned about people riding in a van during the excursion, as they were viewed as close contacts of confirmed cases and were under quarantine and daily surveillance.

Oahu church leaders, Unified … Hawaii, appear to have covered up a large cluster of COVID-19 infections in their community that surfaced after an Easter Sunday service as they spread misinformation and conspiracy theories about the dangers of the vaccine. An infected parishioner died.

Health Department cluster reports show that state officials have continuously investigated clusters in places of worship for the past two months, although it is not clear how many cases have been linked to these outbreaks, as the numbers can be repeated in multiple reports and the locations t identified.

Hawaii has seen an alarming surge in case numbers as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads across the islands, causing hospital officials to worry about their ability to provide adequate care, with the number of patients in the coming weeks is expected to increase significantly.

The state’s seven-day daily average number of new cases has risen to 523, double the previous record since the pandemic began.

Hawaii Department of Health officials reported two new coronavirus-related deaths and 472 new confirmed and probable infections across the state on Wednesday, bringing the state’s total since the pandemic started to 545 deaths and 47,848 cases.

Wednesday’s COVID-19 case report is a partial count as the state’s electronic laboratory reporting system was suspended for about 20 hours on Monday and Tuesday, officials said. The state says its reporting system is back online and the health ministry expects delayed test results to be reported for case numbers on Thursday and Friday.

Health officials said Hawaii’s two most recent COVID-19-related deaths were both female Oahu residents – one in their 40s and the other in their 80s. Both were hospitalized with previous illnesses.

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