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Low case numbers move Honolulu closer to Tier 3

                                Afternoon commuters gathered Tuesday at a South King Street bus stop near Punchbowl Street.
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Afternoon commuters gathered Tuesday at a South King Street bus stop near Punchbowl Street.

Honolulu, for the first time, is expected to hit its metrics today for moving into the less restrictive Tier 3 of the city’s COVID-19 Reopening Framework from the current Tier 2.

With infections and other coronavirus data generally trending down in recent weeks, the state Department of Health reported Tuesday a seven-day average case count for Oahu of 37 and a seven-day average positivity rate of 1.2%. If the numbers don’t spike up today, that should give Oahu one week of what is required to move to Tier 3. A second consecutive week of similarly low coronavirus numbers would be needed before Mayor Rick Blan­giardi would consider issuing an order to move to Tier 3, which sets looser guidelines for many social, community and commercial activities.

Tier 3 allows for 10 people to gather socially, up from five currently, and restaurants can seat 10 people together, up from five now.

If all goes well, the earliest Oahu could move to Tier 3 is Feb. 25, according to Blangiardi spokeswoman Brandi Higa.

But that is not assured: The Department of Health warned Tuesday that its computer feed from reporting labs went down for several hours overnight Sunday, meaning Tuesday’s count of only 13 coronavirus cases on Oahu — and 17 statewide, the lowest tally since July 21 — may be undercounted, and the numbers are likely to bounce back up as records are updated.

Meanwhile, efforts to further curtail the spread of the virus in the islands hit a snag this week, as health officials reported that a record-breaking winter storm on the mainland that left millions without power and resulted in at least 20 deaths had delayed some shipments of COVID-19 vaccines to Hawaii.

The DOH said 10 trays containing 9,750 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived Tuesday as scheduled, but delivery of 14,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine did not make it.

Hawaii is dependent on weekly vaccine shipments from the federal government and was expecting delivery of 42,800 doses this week, plus 4,400 doses to be delivered directly to CVS Health/Longs Drugs, officials said. It’s unclear how the bad weather might affect additional shipments this week.

The DOH releases its official weekly vaccination update on Wednesdays, but a preliminary tally Tuesday showed 261,950 doses had been administered across the islands.

Uncertainty about vaccine delivery is affecting Hawaii’s two largest vaccination clinics, and some appointments may be rescheduled, officials said.

Hawaii Pacific Health, which operates a mass vaccination center at Pier 2, announced Tuesday that no more appointments for initial doses will be scheduled until a vaccine supply is assured. The health care system had administered nearly 55,000 vaccinations at its Oahu sites as of Monday.

The Queen’s Health Systems also is reducing is vaccination schedule. Queen’s has already administered a total of 54,310 doses at its two mass vaccination clinics at the Blaisdell Concert Hall and The Queen’s Conference Center at Punchbowl, and at sites in West Oahu, Molokai and Hawaii island, with 19,731 appointments scheduled.

“We would love nothing more than to be able to provide 4,000 doses or more each day,” Jason Chang, president of The Queen’s Medical Center, said Tuesday in a statement. “As we wait for additional shipments to arrive, we are making adjustments based on availability of doses and to ensure we are operating efficiently.”

No appointments are being canceled at this time at the Punchbowl clinic, but at the Blaisdell site, kupuna who had first-dose appointments this week will be rescheduled to Saturday, when they will join those who are scheduled to return that day for their second dose, Queen’s said.

For scheduling questions, call the Queen’s Vaccination Line at 691-2222.

Honolulu has been in Tier 2 of its Reopening Framework since Oct. 22. In order to advance to Tier 3, the seven-day average of new cases must be below 50 on two consecutive Wednesdays, and the seven-day average test positivity rate must be below 2.5%.

Although the average positivity rate dropped below 2.5% on the previous two Wednesdays — Feb. 3 and 10 — the average case counts exceeded the 50-case benchmark at 60 and 52 cases, respectively.

Today’s average case count is likely to fall well below 50, as the daily numbers over the most recent time frame exceeded that mark only once, on Feb. 9 when 61 infections were reported on Oahu.

The DOH said Tuesday there were no new coronavirus-related deaths in Hawaii, as the statewide death toll remained at 426. All told, there have been 26,906 COVID cases in Hawaii since the start of the pandemic. The statistics released Tuesday reflect the new cases reported to the department Sunday.

The 17 new infections statewide include three cases on Maui and a resident who was diagnosed outside of Hawaii. The tally of coronavirus cases by island since the start of the outbreak shows 21,633 on Oahu, 2,216 on Hawaii island, 1,950 on Maui, 179 on Kauai, 108 on Lanai and 27 on Molokai. Additionally, 793 Hawaii residents were diagnosed outside of the state.

In other developments, the Department of Public Safety continued with mass testing at the Maui Community Correctional Center over the weekend, where the number of active COVID cases among inmates dropped to 18 after two recovered from their illness. Halawa Correctional Facility, scene of a major outbreak last year, is clear of all active inmate cases, DPS reported Tuesday.

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