US Navy will host Hawaii exercises but keep sailors at sea

HONOLULU — The U.S. Navy said Wednesday it will host the world's largest maritime exercises in Hawaii again this year, but the drills will only be held at sea because of the coronavirus.

The Navy has held the Rim of the Pacific exercises in Hawaii every two years since the early 1970s. Hawaii Gov. David Ige earlier this month asked the military to postpone the drills “until the COVID-19 situation here in the islands subsides.”

The Pacific Fleet said in a statement RIMPAC 2020 would not include social events on shore. Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam will host a “minimal footprint” of staff for logistics and support functions.

It said the modified exercise was a way to “conduct a meaningful exercise with maximum training value and minimum risk to the force, allies and partners, and the people of Hawaii.”

The drills will also be held over two weeks, from Aug. 17-31, instead of the usual five weeks of events from late June to early August.

Ige said in a statement he was pleased the Navy agreed to postpone the exercise and would conduct it at sea. He said he would reassess and respond appropriately if conditions changed.

Two years ago, RIMPAC brought 46 surface ships and 25,000 personnel from 25 nations to the islands.

The U.S. has the most coronavirus cases in the world, while an outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier infected nearly 1,000 sailors. Other RIMPAC participants including Japan have also experienced outbreaks.

Hawaii has had 613 cases of the virus as of Wednesday, though only four new ones including three on Oahu. Kauai County has had more than two weeks without a new case.

Residents have been adhering to a statewide stay-at-home order since late March to limit the spread of the virus. The state has also imposed a 14-day quarantine on all travelers arriving in the islands.

On Wednesday, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said golf courses, car dealers and pet groomers would be allowed to resume some operations so long as they followed social distancing requirements.

Caldwell said the city, the governor and the other county mayors were working to determine how to keep everyone safe.

“Together, we are taking the first steps towards a more open way of life,” Caldwell said in a statement. "Getting people back to work is a priority right now and we will continue to make decisions based on all available data and sound science,” Caldwell said in a statement.

The mayor made his announcement after Gov. David Ige approved the rule changes.

Ige told a news conference that officials were discussing allowing hair salons to resume operations but noted it's a business with a high level of contact between people and thus carries a high risk of spreading the disease.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

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