Frustrations Surface Over Maui Restaurant and Bar Rules, and Interpretation for Enforcement
Food and Drink Establishments Face for Another Round of Restrictions:
As the New Year gets underway, another round of restrictions on Maui has some bars and restaurants frustrated with the focus on their industry instead of businesses in general.
Going into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021, is another set of amended Public Health Emergency Rules for Maui County that include:
- Social gatherings will decrease to five individuals. This applies to people who are not of the same household.
- Limiting bar and restaurant occupancy to no more than 30 percent of allowed interior occupancy. This is down from 50 percent.
- Bars and restaurants are now being asked to close by 10 p.m. on each evening.
Mayor Victorino said these steps were being taken to lessen the spread of the COVID-19 virus on Maui as an uptick in cases continues.
Can Restaurants/Bars Struggle to Survive Under “Targeted” Restrictions:
“If you look at the epidemiology curve that’s been occurring, it has peaked and we would have expected it to go down after the holiday season and after the closure of the bars, but it’s been kind of steady,” said Maui Managing Director Sandy Baz, noting that the seven day rolling average of cases on Wednesday was around 18. That was followed by 26 cases on New Year’s Eve and news from Mayor Victorino that the cluster at Harbor Lights in Kahului had grown with 30-plus additional cases after testing conducted on Thursday.
In regards to the new rules coming from the Mayor’s office, “I feel that the Mayor should provide proof that COVID is being contracted in restaurants and bars and not in Costco, Target, Home Depot, home gatherings etc.,” an unnamed establishment told Maui Now. “Not sure why restaurants/bars are being targeted but we feel all businesses should be treated equally. “
Similar comments were made in the comments section of a video posted to the County of Maui Facebook page of Thursday’s media briefing in which the mayor discussed the latest developments and reasoning.
On Christmas Eve, Maui District Health Officer, Dr. Lorrin Pang said many of the new cases that day were connected to community spread though social gatherings as well as “bar-like behavior,” which he described as prolonged periods of eating, drinking and conversing without mask-wearing or social distancing.
While other businesses are not specifically named in the amendment, Mayor Victorino said, “This also goes for many of the stores that have been opening up–and grocery stores, Costco–and all of that have assured us that they are trying to maintain these numbers,” in reference to reduced occupancy.
Reducing dining to 30 percent, “will be the nail in the coffin for some businesses,” one owner told Maui Now. “We operate on razor thin margins and have already been through so much, these rules will ultimately put some of our favorite restaurants in the cemetery. Is that what we want?”
As for limits placed on operating time some expressed concerns that the new rule would be unfair for establishments that rely on business later in the evening.
“Our restaurants will survive since we serve breakfast lunch and dinner but others that open for late night dining or consumption of alcohol will be basically forced to close indefinitely,” a business owner told Maui Now. “Is there evidence that COVID spreads more after 10 p.m.? PM Bartenders, cooks, dishwashers, managers, etc. will all be out of jobs.”
Enforcement Timeframe of December Mandate Raises Questions:
While businesses we spoke to say they have been practicing due diligence in following rules and guidelines published in the media, confusion has surfaced over the Christmas weekend enforcement effort in Lahaina and communication over the specific dates involved.
Last month’s two-week mandate required bars with certified commercial kitchens to close off the bar counter areas, but allowed them to continue to serve food and alcoholic beverages to patrons.
County officials told Maui Now (and we reported) that bars were allowed to reopen on Dec. 26.
The businesses that we spoke to said, “nobody thought it was for 15 days,” as a two week period is 14 days.
When asked why citations were issued on Dec. 26, the county explained further that there was still a restriction on bar counter service at that point in the rules themselves.
While county press releases and information shared at press briefings stated the December mandate would run to/until the 26th, Liquor Department officials say they carried out citations on Dec. 26 based, “solely and specifically on information as it was stated in the Rules” that were amended on Dec. 8.
“The language in the rule basically stated that the rule was in effect through the 26th. That’s the way we interpreted it,” said Layne Silva, Director of the Department of Liquor Control, in explaining the department’s role in the enforcement effort and the conflicting interpretation of the expiration date.
“Of course we don’t want to see anybody getting in trouble or face the 24 hour closure, but the rules need to be complied with,” he said, advising businesses that the best thing to do is to review the rules themselves, which are updated on the County of Maui website.
Department officials said the closures were “not really a punitive punishment or discipline” and will not go to adjudication or remain on file as a violation. “It’s just an opportunity for them to clean up, train employees to ensure safety of the public and reduce the spread of the virus,” said Silva.
When the December mandate was lifted, County officials reiterated that bar counter service would still require six feet of physical distancing between parties. That means a seven foot counter could probably fit two patrons, but a five foot counter would be limited to a single individual to be in compliance, officials explained.
The Maui Police Department dubbed the Christmas weekend enforcement “Operation Face Mask,” since it says the effort was initiated “based on complaints filed with the department’s firstname.lastname@example.org regarding non-compliance of the COVID-19 Face Mask mandate.”
The two 24-hour closure orders were issued for alleged violation of the Maui County COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Rules, not for mask violations as implied in the name of the operation. According to an MPD press release, there was a single mask violation issued during the Dec. 26 enforcement to the owner of Spanky’s Riptide Bar.
Although the police department issued a press release recounting the citations and provided enforcement for alleged non-compliance, Maui police deferred comment to the county Department of Liquor which it says issued the citations.