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As COVID cases skyrocket, city cancels scores of large organized gatherings planned for Oahu

Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 9:56 AM HST|Updated: Aug. 23, 2021 at 4:30 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - All large gatherings on Oahu that exceed current limits ― with 10 people indoors or 25 outdoors ― will be canceled as part of the latest push to address a surge in new COVID infections in the islands, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi announced Monday.

The new rule takes effect Wednesday and will stay in place for at least 28 days. It applies across the board, including to professionally-organized events at the Waikiki Shell and Blaisdell Center.

Gatherings impacted by the order include:

  • Weddings and funerals
  • Conferences
  • Concerts and live events
  • Ticketed sporting events

Church services are not subject to the same rules, however.

The mayor’s order impacts at least 180 professionally-organized events planned for the next 28 days. Of those, 28 were set to have at least 1,000 people and 46 were allowed to have more than 500.

Those events had gotten the OK to be held after submitting mitigation plans to the city. But those approvals are now void and no exemptions to gathering rules will be granted.

“Our case counts have surged and community spread is coming from large gatherings,” Blangiardi said, adding that the rules could be lifted early if infections drop dramatically. “We’re fighting through something that we never anticipated ... would get to this degree of threat to our community.”

The skyrocketing number of infections in the islands is threatening to overwhelm Hawaii’s health care system, and has prompted new urgency to act among state and county leadership.

The 14-day average for new cases in Hawaii now stands at 671, with 441 on Oahu.

Blangiardi said he doesn’t support additional restrictions at this point, including a “stay-at-home” order, but added he’s ready to take “all necessary actions” if infections continue to soar.

“Our health care workers are being pushed beyond their limits,” he said.

As of Monday, there were 410 people hospitalized with COVID in Hawaii, according to the Healthcare Association of Hawaii. Of those, 320 are on Oahu and more than 60 are getting care in ICUs.

“At some point, none of these hospitals will have physical space to take care of these patients,” Honolulu Emergency Services Department Director Jim Ireland said.

“That’s what we’re coming to in the next week or two.”

The city said the limits are based on risk models of how COVID spreads.

“If you have a gathering of 10, it’s a 20% chance that one person in that group will have COVID. If you’ve got a group of 25, you’re looking at 43% chance that at least one person in that group will have COVID,” said Hiro Toiya, director of the City Department of Emergency Management.

“Now if you go bigger than that ― if you’re looking at 100 ― there’s a 90% chance that someone in that group is going to have COVID.”

Some concert promoters said they support the mayor’s decision, but wedding organizers said the shutdown of large gatherings could have been avoided with additional safety measures.

“We would be happy to do 15-minute rapid COVID tests for every person who steps onto a property,” said Joseph Esser, president of the Oahu Wedding Association.

“We would be happy to be doing temperature testing and wearing masks and checking vax cards.”

Concert promoter Rick Bartalini said it would be nice to get back to work but believes the public’s safety is much more important.

“I support Mayor Blangiardi because it’s a science-based decision and it’s critical to reduce the spread and loss of life,” he said.

“It’s unfortunately people continue to be reckless ... and they’re refusing to contribute to the solution.”

This story will be updated.

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