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Honolulu officials take steps to limit public exposure to coronavirus

by Gordon Pang, Star Advertiser

Mayor Kirk Caldwell and the Honolulu City Council on Friday took measured yet dramatic steps to curb the potential for people to contract the new coronavirus, shutting down some activities while taking more precautions for programs and meetings where there is considerable public contact.

The changes affect a variety of city-related activities from driver licensing to attendance at Council and neighborhood board meetings.

City officials said the bottom line is they want to follow the advice given by federal and state health officials urging that people stop going to large gatherings, what’s now being called “social distancing.”

Caldwell announced that starting Monday, only appointment-based applications for driver’s licenses and state identification cards will be processed by driver licensing staff, and that there be no walk-in applications accepted until further notice. That’s for both new and renewal applications for driver’s licenses and state ID cards.

Walk-in road tests as well as driver’s learning permit applications, which require a written test, are included in the new policy, so folks seeking those transactions will need to secure appointments to be processed.

“Right now you can just walk in, get a number, sit down and wait,” Caldwell said Friday. Starting Monday, “we’re going to require that you do an appointment online and that you then come at your designated time and get your driver’s license renewed.”

Customer Services Director Sheri Kajiwara said driver licensing has halted altogether in some jurisdictions. But since Honolulu already has an appointment system in place, “we’re going to utilize that system to reduce risk but at the same time continue offering a level of service to the best possible level we can,” she said.

Driver’s licenses and state IDs can be renewed six months before they expire, and appointments can be booked up to six months in advance. To make an appointment, visit honolulu.gov/CSD.

The change will not affect other types of transactions typically done at satellite city halls, such as vehicle transfers and payment of property taxes or water bills.

The mayor also announced that starting Monday, meetings for all 33 Honolulu neighborhood boards will be canceled indefinitely.

“We’re going to cancel it until such time we think it’s appropriate to have people gather in our neighborhoods, in our schools, to share information with our neighbors,” Caldwell said. “It’s a critical function, but it’s something we think we should do away with for now.”

The mayor said he made the decision after speaking with City Council members Friday morning.

In the City Council’s meeting chambers, Chairman Ikaika Anderson announced that all committee meetings would be canceled effective immediately and until further notice.

Anderson made the announcement at a Council Budget Committee hearing that had been scheduled to hear a second consecutive day of departmental overviews. About a dozen staffers of the Department of Emergency Management, who were scheduled to go first, got up and left after the announcement.

Full Council meetings, however, are expected to continue to convene, including a scheduled monthly meeting on Wednesday.

Whether all the items on Wednesday’s agenda will be voted on hasn’t been decided, Anderson told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

But until further notice, future Council meetings would concentrate only on matters dealing with essential public health and safety, public welfare and the continuity of government operations and services, he said.

Anderson also announced that all nonessential Council employees are being instructed to work from home until further notice. He said most of his personal staff also would be working from home, and he urged colleagues to consider doing so as well.

The Council took one formal action: giving first reading approval to Bill 35, which allows Caldwell to tap the $120.6 million fiscal stability fund to help combat the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak.

The vote was 8-0, with members Carol Fukunaga, Ann Kobayashi and Heidi Tsuneyoshi voting “yes with reservations.” Councilman Ron Menor is out of town.

The current law says the fund can be used only when certain, clearly defined economic or revenue conditions are triggered, or if the governor or president declares a state of emergency due to a natural disaster.

Caldwell, in a rare appearance at a Council meeting, insisted that he will use up unspent funds first to pay for coronavirus issues, but that the additional tool is necessary because virus-related developments are happening at such a quick pace.

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