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Honolulu's first responders grip the pandemic

How your local officials have adjusted since the coronavirus outbreak, and what is to come

By: Liam Thropp

25 October 2020

00:00 / 02:40

Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s gradual reopening of Honolulu hopes to return the city to a fraction of its normal bustle. In his last local restriction change in late September, individuals were allowed to use beaches, parks and trails for outdoor activities. And now, in October, tourism returns as out-of-state visitors are no longer required to remain in quarantine for 14 days.


But local communities are worried about a rise in cases in their neighborhood. Places like Diamond Head and Kahala have a high concentration of parks and beaches, which is ideal for visitors wishing to escape outdoors.


The authorities who govern these neighborhoods are concerned as well. Since the outbreak, emergency services have had to remain functioning while risking exposure to the virus. 


In the Diamond Head neighborhood, Honolulu Ocean Safety Services has seen limited beach use while the city was closed, but since reopening there has been significant foot traffic. They have had half the amount of calls than normal since March, which may be soon to change.


Paramedics have had fewer calls as well, and  have adjusted to adhere to some CDC guidelines. They treat each patient as if they have COVID-19, so the urgency remains. But EMS and Ocean Safety officials say their difficulties are not as challenging as those faced by the Honolulu Police Department.


“The temporary rules affect them much more than EMS and Ocean Safety,” said Honolulu Emergency Medical Services spokeswoman Shayne Enright.

As of Sept. 17, HPD had seen four new cases since Aug. 31 in their downtown station alone. With necessary public interaction, their job becomes more stressful and puts each officer at risk.


But mandatory departmental guidelines have been implemented to stop the spread internally. This includes mandatory mask-wearing on duty, along with a 6-foot minimum distance between an officer and a subject.


An official from HPD’s community affairs division said these policies have been followed well. Officials are concerned, however, with the number of citations being issued by the police.


Firefighters disembark for a distress call at Lanikai Beach in Kailua. One of several calls they received that day. (Liam Thropp)

Data From Hawaii’s State Court system revealed that between March and August, HPD officers issued more than 8,000 citations for alleged violations of the shutdown rules, though in the last month approximately 44,000 had been issued including 44 arrests for violations. If ruled as a violation, it is -- a misdemeanor -- subject to up to a $5,000 fine and/or a year in jail.


“A lot of people think we need to do more warnings,” Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard told the Honolulu Police Commission on Sept. 30. “Well, we did warn from March until August, we had over 11,000 warnings. We actually had more warnings than we did citations. It did not work. The numbers kept coming up. So we switched to more enforcement.”


Should law enforcement be easing up? Perhaps, but with their own risk involved it is hard to balance the safety of communities and their own department.

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