What are the COVID-19 rules and what if I break them?

Presently in Honolulu we are living in an unprecedented time. Since the COVID-19 pandemic came to the forefront here in early March, there have been several emergency orders issued by the mayor and the rules are frequently changing. As of the writing of this post on April 19, 2020, there have been seven "Mayor's Emergency Orders" as well as a "Mayor's Proclamation", a "Mayor's Supplemental Proclamation" and "Mayor's Rules". Generally speaking each order has provided additional restrictions on activities. Violations of these rules are a MISDEMEANOR and carry up to ONE YEAR in jail and a $5,000 fine. You CAN be arrested for violating the rules, however for health and safety reasons authorities are trying to reduce the number of people in custody rather than increase it so at present most people are just getting citations.


What are the rules? Due to the constant modification of the rules, keeping track of what you can and cannot do can be confusing. Essentially all "non-essential" activities outside your home are prohibited. The orders include lists of what activities are deemed "essential". Essential activities include food shopping, picking up prescriptions, doctor's appointments, and activities for health and well being. Sorry but manicures and pedicures are not considered essential. Neither are trips to the salon for a haircut. You also cannot hang out on the beach, either by yourself or in a group. Social gatherings, even inside a residence, are prohibited unless it's people of the same household. For example, you can hang out with your roommates if you all live in the same house, but you can't invite friends or family that don’t live with you over, or go to their house. City parks, such as Ala Moana Beach Park are closed and you are prohibited from being inside those areas. Exercising, like running or walking, is allowed, however you still cannot run in the closed parks. Walking dogs is permitted, but again it cannot be in a closed park. Fishing, surfing and swimming in the ocean is allowed. And the only exception to the closed park rule is that you may pass through a closed beach park, like Ala Moana, in order to access the water. So when you finish swimming or surfing you must exit the water and immediately walk back out of the park. You cannot sit on the beach and watch the sunset or have a drink. For shore fishing you must be within the high wash of the waves. There are now even restrictions on boat fishing in that you cannot have more than two people in the boat and must maintain social distancing on the boat to the degree you can. Over Easter weekend there was a curfew from 11pm to 5am. That particular restriction expired and it doesn't look like it will be brought back for now.


The biggest modification in the most recent Mayor's Order issued on April 14, 2020 now requires face coverings to be worn in most situations where other people are around. Employers, employees and customers of the essential businesses that are still operating are now required to wear face coverings. Anyone using public transportation is also required to use coverings. The law makes exceptions for people with medical issues that prevent wearing coverings, or for children under the age of 5. The order recommends but does not require face coverings for all individuals outside their homes performing activities such as walking their dogs or exercising. An up to date listing of all the orders issued by the Mayor can be found here: https://www.honolulu.gov/mayor/proclamations-orders-and-rules.html

I would suggest continuously checking for updates as all of the above information may be outdated within a few days.


What happens if I break the rules? The police have been very active in issuing citations for anyone violating the Mayor's Orders. Because the courts are essentially shut down for now, its unclear how these cases are going to be treated by the courts. Due to the very serious nature of the virus I could foresee judges being very strict and imposing greater penalties than someone would ordinarily get for a misdemeanor, especially if there is ever a spike in deaths in Hawaii. Due to the complicated nature of the ever-changing orders, however, there will likely be a lot of legal challenges as these cases move through the system. If you happen to get cited for violating the Mayor's Orders, I would definitely recommend getting legal counsel as I believe there is a significant chance that the penalties for violations could be extreme.


Of course the best way to avoid these legal troubles, and to avoid catching or spreading the virus is to JUST STAY HOME!

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© 2017 by Law Office of Jason R. Burks

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