Maui Rally Draws 500, Seeking Freedom of Choice Amid Vaccination & Mask Mandates
Organizers say an estimated 500 people attended today’s rally fronting the State Office and County buildings in Wailuku, Maui, calling for freedom of choice amid further vaccination mandates announced in recent days. The 2.5 hour rally began at 7:30 a.m. fronting the State Office Building, which houses the district offices for the Department of Education, Maui Complex Areas; and moved to the County Building which houses the Mayor’s office.
A similar demonstration held last week Thursday drew an estimated 100 participants as the Department of Education announced a vaccine mandate for student athletes unless they have a medical or religious exemption.
Since then, Governor David Ige issued a requirement for state and county workers to provide proof of their vaccination status by Aug. 16, or be subject to regular COVID-19 testing. Similar announcements were made by: the state House, three Hawaiʻi banks and a list of Maui Health care providers.
“Thursday’s announcement with the student athletes was the straw that broke our back,” said Kendall Grove, a professional combat sports athlete and coach at I & I Training Center on Maui. “Prior to that announcement, prior to you forcing our kids to get the shot… we couldn’t get this many people here, no matter how hard I tried,” Grove told Maui Now.
Grove called today’s event “an uprising,” saying, “I have family here that’s vaccinated. I have friends here that are vaccinated, but they’re adults. They made that decision. Like I said, I’m not against it. If you feel like you need that for you and your family, so be it… Why is it wrong for me to believe that I will do better without it? Why is it wrong to believe that it’s not right for my kids? Because at the end of the day, I’ve got to live with the consequences… The government is not giving us a choice,” said Grove.
Grove and his wife made the difficult decision to send their son to live with Grove’s sister-in-law in another state so that he could play football.
“This all happened so quick. My son was getting ready for school and sports. He’s been practicing throughout the whole thing and then last week they dropped that all student athletes have to be vaccinated. Right there, we knew my son had no future this year, like how he did last year. He had no season… We had social distanced learning where he did school at home… so us as parents, we had to make a decision, ” said Grove.
“Either be selfish and (say) no you’re going to stay home with us, or how bad do we love our son to where we got to go send him to somewhere to go accomplish his dream… Now my wife has to let her son go–her world go–because she loves him so much that she wants him to have his dream. She wants him to go pursue it because if we don’t, we’re hypocrites,” said Grove.
Another concerned citizen, Bennett Debeer, spoke before the crowd, making a public call to Maui Mayor Michael Victorino to host a town hall style meeting in which questions could be posed and answers given.
“Last week one of his representatives came out just to listen to us,” said Debeer, saying he is thankful for the interaction, but contends questions remain unanswered. “We will keep it civil, we will be peaceful. We have questions. There’s a lot of people that agree with what’s happening. There’s also a lot of people that disagree. And for those that want to speak to our mayor, he’s an elected official, he should want to sit down with us and do that. That’s all we’re asking… We just want to be informed.”
This morning, Mayor Michael Victorino met for about 45 minutes this with Anna Grove and Cullen Bell, representatives of demonstrators who gathered outside the Kalana O Maui and State Buildings in Wailuku. He heard their concerns and agreed to invite State officials to participate in a Maui community meeting in the near future.
Mayor Victorino established three terms for the meeting: mutual respect by all participants, no foul language or threats, and to limit discussion to definitive solutions.
“This is the County of Maui where aloha should guide us when we resolve our disagreements. I appreciate that today’s protesters were peaceful and respectful because this is how we solve problems together,” said Mayor Victorino. “Ever since the pandemic came to Hawaiʻi, my administration has taken a methodical and systematic approach to prioritize the health and wellbeing of Maui County citizens. We all share this common ground: the desire to protect public health, to properly educate our keiki, and to keep our economy moving. If we begin there, I believe we can find workable solutions.”
Debeer, who held a sign that read, “End the Mask Mandates,” said everyone has a certain message that they want to share. “I believe it’s just the mandates and the government–they’re really pushing on us real, real hard, and I think it should remain a choice… A lot of people were out here for freedom.”
Signs today included much of the same sentiment from last week’s demonstration including: “No Vaxx Mandate,” “Freedom to Choose,” “Just say no to mandatory Vaxx,” “Choice is a right, not a privilege,” “My body, my choice,” “Stop coming for our kids. Let them live unrestricted. Their livelihood is essential,” and “What one generation tolerates, the next will accept. Speak up.”
Several motorists driving by today’s demonstration called out to sign wavers, calling them “uninformed,” while a social media post of the demonstration drew comments from others concerned about the gathering of hundreds of maskless people, many of whom were not physically distanced, and limited capacity in the hospital with a spike in the Delta variant.
Maui’s current mask mandate calls for mask-wearing indoors, but the outdoor mandate was lifted on May 25, 2021. When lifting the outdoor mandate, government officials advised that when outdoors, people are still encouraged to mask up when in large groups of 10 people or more.
There are 23 individuals hospitalized in Maui County with COVID-19, according to counts last updated on Aug. 7, 2021, from the Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency. There are 16 ICU beds being used in Maui County at this time (out of 31 currently available). Five of the ICU beds are being used by COVID-19 patients. Nine ventilators (out of 38 available) are being used in Maui County, with three being used by COVID-19 patients.
The demonstration also comes as the state records it’s highest COVID-19 counts of the pandemic with four days in a row of 600+ new cases (Thursday, Aug. 5 through Sunday Aug. 8). Today, there were 437 new infections including 293 on Oʻahu, 56 in Maui County, 67 on Hawaiʻi Island, 16 on Kauaʻi, and five in Hawaiʻi residents diagnosed outside of the state. The Maui cases include 41 confirmed, 11 probable on Maui Island, and four probable cases on Molokaʻi.
The Hawaiʻi Department of Health continues to urge people to get vaccinated if they haven’t done so already, noting the test positivity rate is the highest it’s been in a year at 7.3%. “There are higher percentages of cases in areas with lower vaccination rates. In addition, the majority of hospitalizations in Hawaiʻi occur among unvaccinated individuals,” health officials have said. “This increase will not stop on its own—it will take our collective action to protect ourselves and our communities,” according to the DOH, whose officials maintain that vaccination is the best protection against COVID-19.