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Oahu could move to Tier 4 reopening if COVID-19 cases continue to drop

                                COVID-19 statistics were displayed at the Puuloa Road overpass along Moanalua Freeway on Thursday.
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COVID-19 statistics were displayed at the Puuloa Road overpass along Moanalua Freeway on Thursday.

Oahu is on track to reach the least-restrictive tier in Honolulu’s reopening plan on March 25 if case counts continue to drop.

Honolulu’s seven-day rolling average of new cases was 23 on Thursday with an average positivity rate of 0.9%, meeting one benchmark to move to Tier 4, which allows gatherings of up to 25 people, up from 10. The seven-day average case count must be below 20 and the positivity rate below 1% on two consecutive Wednesdays — March 17 and 24 — to move to Tier 4.

“We’re already very close. The numbers are so good, and we want folks on the positive right now … keeping case counts low so that we can move to Tier 4 and not move backwards,” said Tim Sakahara, communications director for Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi. “People do have to continue practicing physical distancing, masking, and washing hands to get those case numbers down and the positivity rate to stay down.”

Hospitals have seen a dramatic decline in COVID-19 patients, which has given state officials a sense of relief as the pandemic rages across America.

“It’s nowhere near capacity levels,” Sakahara said. “That was always the concern. The last thing anybody wants to have happen is the medical industry and the hospitals get overwhelmed with people.”

Health officials reported 60 new coronavirus infections Thursday, including 36 on Oahu, bringing the state’s total since the start of the pandemic to 27,699 cases. On Wednesday, the state recorded 20 new infections, including just eight on Oahu — the lowest since July.

The statewide death toll remains at 441 with no new coronavirus deaths reported. Of the state’s total infection count, 635 cases are considered to be active.

Oahu moved into the less-restrictive Tier 3 of the city’s four-tier economic recovery plan on Feb. 25 after being in Tier 2 for 17 weeks. It now appears likely the county can move to Tier 4 in only a quarter of the time it took to get to Tier 3.

Tier 3 permits social and outdoor recreational gatherings of up to 10 people, and restaurants to seat 10 people at a table, up from five now. Tier 3 also allows funeral services with up to 25 attendees, and group fitness classes indoors with up to 10 participants. Gym capacity can increase to 50%. Restaurants and spiritual services can operate at full capacity as long as the establishments maintain 6 feet of distancing. The mayor is working with the state on modifying Tier 3 to further ease restrictions.

Organized team sports would be allowed in Tier 4, in addition to no restrictions on golf and allowing 25 people up from 10 in group fitness classes. The opening of bars and nightclubs is still to be determined in Tier 4.

David Shinbara, coach for the Hawaiian Lions Basketball Club, is hopeful that more restrictions will be lifted soon.

“Hawaii being a place where we’re used to being outdoors, whether it’s for physical health, physical fitness or whether it’s just for their mental state of mind, I feel as a coach it’s actually safer to have kids go out in organized sports than kids just going outside,” he said.

“They’ve been isolated so long indoors. Anything to get the kids back out.”

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