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Oahu to suspend large gatherings; Hawaii County expected to follow

As Oahu hospitals reach capacity, Mayor Rick Blangiardi announced that large gatherings will be canceled for four weeks beginning Wednesday.

Prohibited events include weddings, funerals, sporting events and other attractions such as the Van Gogh exhibit at the Hawai‘i Convention Center.

These types of large events will be held to the same standard as the general gathering rules: groups of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.

The change will not apply to church gatherings, but indoor services will be expected to maintain distancing between groups of 10 people.

The restrictions are scheduled to last four weeks but could be extended if hospital capacity is still limited and infection levels on Oahu remain high.

Blangiardi made the announcement in response to high levels of COVID-19 infection circulating in the community. Honolulu currently has over 9,000 active cases of COVID-19, an all-time high.

“We feel that that’s really the major source of communal spread,” Blangiardi said. “At the same time, we’re obviously urging everyone to be vaccinated.”

Queen’s Health Systems CEO Dr. Jill Hoggard Green urged people to stay home if possible.

“This is a time where we want to ensure that everyone can continue their work and their schooling,” she said.

“That means we’ve got to keep our families close, decrease the amount of outside activity and assure that every day you’re wearing your mask inside as well as outside, assure that you’re keeping physical distance.”

She also emphasized the need to limit behavior that would cause injuries, to limit the number of trauma patients the hospital needs to see.

Honolulu Emergency Serv­ices Department Director Jim Ireland urged people to get vaccinated, as ambulances have been adjusting their hospital selection process in an attempt to not overwhelm certain hospitals.

“In general, I haven’t heard of one 911 call for COVID-related illness in a vaccinated person,” he said.

“Now, there may have been a few, but what the paramedics are telling me is they ask the person, ‘Are you vaccinated?’ … because we want to know before we get to the house, and almost universally the answer is, ‘No, I’m not vaccinated.’”

Ireland also noted that EMS recently had a record day of emergencies, responding to 390 medical calls in a 24-hour period.

The level of infection has grown so high that Hiro Toiya, director of emergency management, explained that the isolation facilities that the city used for infected people who do not have a place to isolate from their families may no longer be a viable strategy.

“The previous assumption on the need for this service was that about 10% of those active cases would potentially use this service. And based on the current active case numbers, it’s not a realistic number,” he said.

He explained that utilizing hotels is no longer an option because most are full with paying customers, and that the delta variant is so much more transmissible that once someone is infected, it’s likely that they’ve already infected those they live with.

“So as an intervention, we don’t believe this is effective anymore to actually separate out households,” Toiya said.

“What we are focusing on is congregate settings, where we have a chance to control the spread in these environments where large numbers of people can potentially get infected with COVID.”

Meanwhile, some neighbor islands are also thinking about re-implementing restrictions.

A spokesperson for Hawaii County said Mayor Mitch Roth has submitted a request to Gov. David Ige regarding multiple restrictions. They did not want to disclose specifics until it is approved, but noted that the gathering size of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors is part of the request.

On a Facebook Live update, Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami did not include any indication of increasing restrictions, but urged people to stay home.

“We don’t need to wait for restrictions. We know what we need to do to flatten this curve,” he said.

“Each of us can make better choices to protect ourselves and others from COVID. Choose to stay home over going to that party or gathering. Choose to wear your mask in public. Choose to stay home if you’re feeling sick, and get tested. And above all else, get vaccinated if you can.”

Maui County did not respond to questions about implementing more restrictions.

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