Listen up, Oahu: The next several weeks are so critical against COVID-19 — for both our economic and personal health — that it’s imperative to refrain from irresponsible social gatherings that simply are not yet safe enough to attend or allow.
That means such things as no social gatherings outside household members beyond 10 people, keeping 6-foot distances and staying masked — and that goes even for outdoor weddings, where up to 100 people are allowed. All those safety behaviors are necessary as Oahu enters a four-week extension to remain in Tier 3 status, under an agreement struck last Wednesday between the governor and Honolulu’s mayor.
This reprieve through about May 5 allows Oahu to continue operating under Tier 3’s eased rules — even though weekly COVID cases exceed metrics in the reopening framework, which would’ve bumped the island back to the more restrictive Tier 2 last week.
“The next four weeks are critical in determining if we can continue in Tier 3 or are forced to take a step backwards,” Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said Wednesday. “We need the community to help guide the cause and prevent the spread of the virus by wearing masks, staying physically distanced and getting the vaccine if you are able to.”
Remaining in Tier 3, for now, brings needed stability and relief for many businesses just starting to regroup and reopen since Oahu achieved Tier 3 status on Feb. 25. Companies are slowly regaining their footing, and constricting operations at this juncture — absent any unexpected spike in COVID cases — seems ill-advised.
It was just six weeks ago that Blangiardi, installed as mayor in January, sought and received the first major modifications to loosen Oahu’s recovery framework, created last fall by the Caldwell administration. Those changes now allow bars to open under conditions similar to restaurants, up until midnight; lifted restrictions on funerals; and enable outdoor weddings of up to 100 people if COVID protocols are observed.
Another modification starting today: Organized youth outdoor sports can resume, with athletes masked and with no spectators, which families and friends must take to heart. Adult outdoor league sports are due to restart next Monday.
Friday’s report of new cases saw 67 on Oahu, more than a dozen above Tier 2’s maximum of 49. Despite that higher-than-desired count, what justifies Oahu’s four-week tier reprieve is the state’s solid pace of COVID vaccinations, a major mitigating factor that did not exist when the reopening framework launched in September.
On that front, today also brings a positive step: Vaccinations are starting for residents age 50 and up, in addition to all previous categories. This is an important move toward next Monday’s huge milestone, when the state expects to open vaccination eligibility to all residents age 16 and older.
As for Oahu’s recovery framework, here’s how it defines Tier 3: “ … representing a moderate level of community spread that allows the public health system to fully test, contact trace, and isolate/quarantine; and does not overburden the healthcare system.”
That wholly defines Oahu’s situation as it stands today. Yes, caseloads are higher than the original intent under Tier 3 — weekly average of up to 49 cases, 2.49% maximum positivity rate — but vaccinations have arrived on the scene. And though immunization levels are far from the estimated 80% needed for “herd immunity,” COVID cases have lessened in severity and hospitalization rates controllable.
Still, this is a precarious time for Oahu — so pick your occasions and engage sparingly. Use this four-week reprieve in Tier 3 to spring our island community into the safer Tier 4, not to fall backward.