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Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi won’t change current tier system

                                Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi held a press conference outdoors today.
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Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi held a press conference outdoors today.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi this morning said he has no intentions of tweaking or changing the current tier system established for Oahu by the former administration.

“I know there’s a certain amount of fatigue involved with the tier system,” said Blangiardi, “but as I’ve promised the governor — I’m understanding it takes the governor’s authorizations to make any changes there — that right now, especially in the aftermath of where we were a week ago when we had that spike in cases of 322, we’re just steady as she goes right now.”

Blangiardi said it is a “very fluid situation” and that city’s focus is now on supporting state efforts to administer COVID-19 vaccinations as efficiently and aggressively as possible.

Today, the state Health Department reported 122 new cases for Oahu, bringing the total on island since the start of the pandemic to 19,580. The department also reported five deaths for Oahu — all seniors with underlying conditions that were hospitalized.

The 7-day average case count is at 137, including inmates (130 without inmates), and the positivity rate at about 4%, according to Blangiardi, and Oahu remains at Tier 2.

Blangiardi is hoping those numbers will come down as vaccinations get underway.

“Our attitude right now is we’re in Tier 2 we want to stay in Tier 2,” said Blangiardi. “I’m not interested in going back to a Tier 1 situation and hopefully we won’t be mandated to do so and we want to fight against that. I am much more focused, as I’ve said before, on our getting to Tier 3 and what are the things we can do to get to Tier 3.”

Oahu has remained at Tier 2 for months, which differs from Tier 1 by allowing legal short-term rentals, gyms to operate at 25% capacity, helicopter tours to operate at 50% capacity, and up to five people not from the same household to dine together inside restaurants.

When Hawaii’s daily new coronavirus case count spiked to 322 last Thursday — the highest since mid-August — it threw a curveball into recovery efforts.

Blangiardi said his team questioned whether it was a holiday surge or a third wave.

“I’m feeling more confident by the day now, as we’ve seen the numbers coming down that that’s exactly what we had,” he said, ” a short-term surge for the holidays.”

Blangiardi said he hoped to stay in Tier 2, which under a four-tiered framework established by former Mayor Kirk Caldwell, is allowed with a 7-day average of 50 to 100 new daily cases and positivity rate of between 2.5 to 5%. The city can only move to the next tier after reaching targets on two consecutive Wednesdays.

Oahu’s averages have been inching upwards since the holidays, moving it closer to the more restrictive Tier 1. For two Wednesdays, the 7-day average case count has been above 100, including inmates. Without inmates, the 7-day average last Wednesday was at 88. The positivity rate has consistently remained below 5%.

Despite great optimism, Oahu was never able to reach Tier 3 last year, and COVID-19 infection rates have been on the rise since Christmas Day.

Under Tier 3, social gatherings of up to 10 would be allowed, up from 5 under Tier 2, and retail business would be able to operate at full capacity, rather than 50% capacity under Tier 2.

The mayor did not have specifics on the administration’s budget yet, but said his team was determining how much of the original $387 million in CARES Act funds from last year could be recaptured.

With the next package of federal coronavirus relief funds, Blangiardi said his priority is “putting it in the hands of people who need it the most.” He said he wanted to help small businesses, as well offer rent relief for landlords and take a triage approach to applying funds where the greatest needs are.

Blangiardi said at the same time that he is encouraged to see more people wearing masks in public, adhering to physical distancing guidelines and avoiding large gatherings.

“Locally I’m seeing more and more evidence of that,” he said. “I think that’s part of the reason we’re having the success that we’re having.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously said gyms and helicopter tours could operate at 50% capacity under Tier 2. Gyms may only operate at 25% capacity, while helicopter tours may operate at 50% capacity under Tier 2.
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