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Blangiardi asks state to lift some team sports restrictions with COVID cases declining

Updated: Feb. 20, 2021 at 12:47 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - As COVID case counts continue to drop, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi has hinted Oahu is on the verge of loosening restrictions for the first time since October.

He also confirmed he’s working with the governor to bring back team sports, saying an announcement could be made as early as next week.

“We want to get people playing,” Blangiardi said.

Athletes across Oahu have been waiting to hear those words since last summer.

Given that infections are the lowest they have been in months, the newly-elected mayor says he supports lifting some of the restrictions on sports leagues.

“I want to be really careful here because I don’t think anyone has sanctioned competitive play right now,” he said. “But we are going to hopefully let people get out there, practice with their teams, coaches and their teammates.”

[Read more: Oahu is poised to enter Tier 3 of its reopening strategy. Here’s what that means.]

Under Oahu’s current reopening plan, outdoor organized sports teams aren’t permitted to play until the county reaches Tier 4. That happens when the island’s COVID positivity rate falls below 1% and the average seven-day case count is under 20.

Right now, Oahu remains in Tier 2 and is on the verge of entering Tier 3, with fewer restrictions.

Major Island Soccer Organization President Sergio Bolioli has rallied to change the rules to allow team play. “I’ve heard of many people, especially on the football side have moved to the mainland because their kids were not getting a chance here,” he said.

“To play high school football and get a chance to be seen.”

While the pandemic has forced most team sports on Oahu to shut down completely, athletics associated with some schools have been able to play.

Kamehameha Schools said in a statement that boys’ and girls’ varsity basketball teams on its Kapalama campus have agreed to participate in a series of individual games with other Hawaii schools.

“In partnership with those schools, KS Kapalama believes in providing the opportunity for students to participate in safe, organized play as part of their educational experience,” the school said.

“All participating schools agreed on health and safety requirements, including a negative PCR test prior to the game, school wellness clearances and temperature checks, hand sanitizing and a face mask requirement for all participants. Attendance will be limited to players, coaches, officials, and essential event personnel.”

Bolioli said the it’s “not fair” to have different rules.

“If we’re going to have rules to mandate they should apply equally to everyone regardless if you’re public or private,” Bolioli said.

City Councilwoman Andria Tupola believes with proper guidelines in place some restrictions can be lifted. She has spent weeks working with the athletics community to draft a 44-page handbook with protocols on how to safely reopen sports.

“I think what would be fair is for the state to release these restrictions on venue capacities and spectators and allow people to play sports safely,” she said.

Tupola says it’s a plan that will be ready for use as soon as they’re given the green light to restart youth sports.

“So in our phases, we lay out what should be done for regular health checks, how you can ensure that people who have underlying conditions are taken into consideration before returning to sports,” said Tupola. “Being sure to monitor that if three people test positive on a team that there could be spread, shut down the team, make sure to do an investigation.”

The state Department of Health has also approved guidelines.

“We know a lot of sports can be played relatively safely,” said Dr. Libby Char, state health director. “It’s really about all the associated activities. So we really want to stay away from the potlucks, the snacks after practice.”

Tupola added, “With California being almost the most strict state in the nation and they are opening up for youth sports, that’s a signal to our decision makers we are behind the curve on this.”

Ultimately it’s up to Gov. David Ige to sign off on Blangiardi’s request. HNN asked his office for an interview Friday, but a spokesperson said he was not available.

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