Organizers: ’Unmasked flash mob’ canceled

An “unmasked flash mob” planned Saturday at the new Kailua-Kona Safeway has been called off, organizers said Monday evening.

The event, details of which began circulating on social media last week, sparking concern in the community, called for unmasked people to go into the store at 2 p.m. Saturday with a petition signed by over 100 people. Other actions called for signing a petition to protect and honor’s parents rights to direct health care decisions for their keiki as well as to participate in “awareness” rallies planned in Kona and Waimea that day.

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Organizers reached Monday by West Hawaii Today said the event had been called off.

“Our actual plan was to go there with aloha and talk to the manager. We have a petition with over 100 signatures asking them to honor HIPAA and the 14th amendment. HIPAA honors those with medical exemptions who cannot wear masks. We have a laminated sign we were going to give them to post,” said Michelle Melendez, after noting that despite protesting the state and Hawaii County COVID-19 mandates on Saturdays for almost five months on Queen Kaahumanu Highway the group was only contacted by the media after hearing of plans to go into Safeway maskless.

The group will instead take their concerns to the Hawaii County Council and mayor, she said.

“We are calling for a town hall meeting and asking for them to explain why Big Island citizens are still being subjected to emergency mandates when the numbers clearly show there is no emergency,” said Melendez in an emailed response to a phone call seeking comment.

The group takes issue with the various COVID-19 mandates implemented despite stating the virus has killed fewer than influenza, heart disease or cancer, and that the science behind mask mandates and social distancing is “very questionable.”

“Putting people in fear of a virus that is less deadly than the regular flu and subjecting them to mandates that change how they connect with their community should outrage people. Also, telling them they need a vaccine to be safe from this virus and nothing about how to boost their immune system is shocking to me as a 25-year fitness and wellness professional. Our bodies were made by God and are a miracle. 99.9% of people recover from this virus which shows how strong our bodies truly are,” Melendez said.

Safeway, in a prepared statement issued Monday afternoon issued prior to Melendez’s response, said the company was “reviewing this matter internally with our team and taking appropriate steps.”

“Throughout the pandemic, the health and safety of everyone who walks through our doors has been our top priority. We have implemented a number of safety measures to safeguard our customers and associates. We continue to require everyone to wear face coverings or masks in our stores, as recommended by the CDC. We appreciate the diligence, cooperation, and support that our communities have shown as we work together to get through these difficult times as safely as possible,” the statement read.

Hawaii Police Department Chief Paul Ferreira said Monday police had been notified of the situation and were planning for “an event occurring” in Kona on Saturday.

Officers have been in contact with Safeway, as well as other area supermarkets, and were still trying to touch base with organizers to try to “get an understanding like anything else — is it going to be peaceful? If it’s peaceful and they just want to make a statement, how can we go about doing it so that nobody gets hurt and it’s done in a proper way.”

He asked organizers to contact the Kona station by calling (808) 326-4646.

“Of course, the community is concerned, but, right now, we are taking measures to address it and if they (the public) talk to anybody that’s organizing it, reach out to us,” he said prior to the organizer’s announcement of the event’s cancelation.

Hawaii County Acting Mayor Lee Lord, who is at the helm while Mayor Mitch Roth recovers following a heart attack over the weekend, said the administration was working with police “to monitor and assess the situation to ensure that safeguards are in place to protect the health and safety of our Kona community — particularly our essential frontline workers and kupuna.”

“We would like to remind the public that the rules in place are there to keep us safe through this pandemic and should be followed accordingly. Failure to do so is a direct violation of the law and will be handled as such,” Lord said in a prepared statement. “We’ve done a fantastic job of slowing the spread thus far and would like to encourage our communities to keep up the excellent work by adhering to all social distancing policies and mandates.”

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Lt. Gov. Josh Green, a practicing West Hawaii physician, said Monday he reached out to police and the Attorney General’s office after seeing news of the event on social media.

“I support freedom of speech and people getting together, but people who do that kind of thing are going to jeopardize people’s health. This is a serious a matter with COVID, and people not wearing masks intentionally are not making a point, they are hurting others,” said Green, who contracted COVID-19 last fall.

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