Hawai‘i Department of Health launches new, holiday guidelines

LIHU‘E — The holiday season is a time for celebrations and parties with family, friends and co-workers, but large gatherings are the primary cause of COVID-19 clusters.

To demonstrate how to gather safely with ‘ohana, friends and co-workers, the state Department of Health has produced a new campaign, “How to Gather. For Real.”

The campaign offers practical guidance that is consistent with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Two public service announcements — one focusing on gatherings with family and friends and the other on workplace gatherings — began airing this week on TV, radio, online, in print and on social media. These messages will continue through the end of the year.

“The public-service announcements depict real-life scenarios and tips that we can all use to gather and interact with others in a safer way,” said DOH Director Dr. Elizabeth Char. “We urge the public to follow these practices and help us reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

A statewide survey and focus groups conducted on O‘ahu in August found that most people are aware of the guidance on wearing masks, physical distancing and avoiding large gatherings. But many have difficulty implementing the guidelines when it comes to getting together with others.

Know the risks

While the new guidelines help make gatherings safer, it is important to remember that virtual celebrations still pose the lowest risk for spread. Hawai‘i residents should pay careful attention to COVID-19 levels in their community and use the following guidance to determine whether to postpone, cancel or limit the number of attendees at gatherings:

• Number of COVID-19 cases: Consider the number and rate of COVID-19 cases on the island or in the community when planning a gathering. This information is updated daily at HawaiiCOVID19.com;

• Location: Indoor gatherings generally pose more risk than outdoor gatherings. Plan for outdoor events or leave doors and windows open;

• Duration: The longer the event, the more risk of exposure. Consider having shorter celebrations;

• The number of invitees: Gatherings with more people pose more risk than those with fewer people. Keep a distance of at least six feet apart from those who are not from the same household;

• Out-of-state guests: A negative pre-travel COVID-19 test from trusted testing and travel partners or an FDA-approved test after arrival with the required quarantine helps reduce spread in the islands. Still, gatherings with attendees from outside Hawai‘i may pose a higher risk than gatherings with attendees who live in the same area;

• Behaviors: Gatherings with attendees who do not engage in preventive behaviors such as maintaining a physical distance of least six feet, wearing masks or washing hands often pose more risk than gatherings with attendees who follow preventive behaviors.

Dr. Janet Berreman, DOH Kaua‘i District Health Office officer, shared her thoughts on gathering safely.

“We all enjoy gathering with family and friends for the holidays, ” Berreman said. “With some extra care and planning, we can celebrate safely this holiday season.”

Berreman has a few tips for Kaua’i.

“Arrange seating so that those who live together can sit and eat together, separated by 6 feet or more from other household groups,” Berreman said. “Food should be served as individuals meals or bentos. We can greet each other warmly, but without the usual hugs and kisses — perhaps the biggest challenge.”

Berreman said Kaua‘i is still at Tier 4, which allows gathering sizes up to 10 people indoors and up to 25 people outdoors.

“Please track the current county tier and gathering-size limits as the holidays approach,” Berreman said. “Mahalo for caring for your ‘ohana and our community.”

The “How to Gather. For Real” public-service announcements can be viewed at HawaiiCOVID19.com/resources.

For more information on how to gather safely, visit HawaiiCOVID19.com/safe-gatherings and HawaiiCOVID19.com/workplace-guidance for workplace guidance.

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