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Gatherings larger than 5 banned to curb Oahu virus spread

August 19, 2020 GMT

HONOLULU (AP) — Indoor or outdoor social gatherings larger than five people will not be allowed on Hawaii’s most populous island of Oahu, officials announced Tuesday in an attempt to tamp down on an increase in positive coronavirus cases.

Face coverings will be required at all shopping malls, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said. Masks will also be required at spiritual services and no singing or wind instruments will be allowed.

Recent daily COVID-19 counts in the triple digits have also prompted delaying Hawaii’s pre-travel testing program to at least Oct. 1, Gov. David Ige said. Allowing travelers to bypass a 14-day quarantine by testing negative for the virus before trips was intended to allow Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy to rebound.

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For a time the state had the lowest number of cases in the nation per capita. But as restrictions were relaxed, the virus began spreading more, especially on Oahu.

“It was the gatherings that were probably most problematic,” state Health Director Dr. Bruce Anderson said of the surge. “And these are everything from family parties to whatever.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Officials previously tightened some measures, including closing Oahu’s beaches, parks and hiking trails to prevent large gatherings. People can still traverse the beach to swim in the ocean.

Some have complained that gyms, where clusters have been reported, are allowed to remain open while free, outdoor spaces for exercise are closed. “We’re doing this for health reasons,” Caldwell said. “To think we’re taking action based on business reasons is so far left-field.”

The latest measures go into effect Thursday for 28 days, Ige said.