In impassioned address to City Council, Honolulu’s mayor warns hospitals are near ‘breaking point’
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi told the City Council on Thursday that government is doing everything possible ― short of a lockdown ― to address an ongoing surge in COVID cases, but warned hospitals and the health care system are nearing a “breaking point.”
He also said that those refusing to get vaccinated are a vocal minority.
“This handful of naysayers ... want to act like they represent the majority when the majority has already spoken. Over a million people being vaccinated is a major statement. And more every day,” he said.
He added that the situation is growing “more dire” daily.
Blangiardi spoke at an informational briefing at the Council on Thursday afternoon that was supposed to be about efforts to stop the spread of the virus.
But it quickly derailed into a debate over vaccines, with more than 250 testifiers taking to the microphone virtually ― mostly against the vaccine or COVID mandates.
“An animal has more rights than us right now,” said testifier Yvonne Alvarado.
“The truth is being suppressed I believe that,” said testifier Laura Nakanelua.
Many of those who spoke repeated misinformation about the shots that is circulating on the internet.
Outside Honolulu Hale, demonstrators stood in protest. Inside the city building they listened to the virtual council hearing without wearing masks.
The mayor addressed the overwhelming takeaway of the testimony, telling councilmembers, “The kinds of things you’re hearing today, ‘It’s my right to get sick and when I get sick you have to take care of me’ has a breaking point.” He said that breaking point has “gotten lost in translation.”
City Councilmember Heidi Tsuneyoshi told the mayor she took offense at that statement and accused him of being divisive.
“I would suggest to you Mr. Mayor that you do soften your stance a little bit,” she said. “You were here to represent all the people of the city and County of Honolulu and I find it a little bit disrespectful.”
“We already granted 900 medical and religious exemptions among or own 10,000+ universe of employees — if that is not understanding of people and their positions, I don’t know what is,” Blangiardi said.
“So I’m anybody but someone who is divisive, and if some of the things I said you didn’t like, I’m just going to tell you that’s too bad cause it’s not divisive. We’re talking about human lives here and what’s at stake for our state,” he added.
The employees who refuse to be vaccinated will be put on leave and possibly terminated, he said.
Tsuneyoshi also said false statements, including that “the Pfizer vaccine wasn’t FDA approved.” In fact, the FDA gave full approval to the Pfizer vaccination for those 16 years and older.
“There could have been a little bit of forward thinking in knowing that we would have a variant and that we would have this inundation so people wouldn’t be blamed,” she added.
Hawaii health leaders have been pushing for vaccinations since the beginning of the year, and continue to do so as the best defense against the virus.
With COVID cases rising in the state, Tsuneyoshi also said that visitors are still bringing in the virus, but a doctor offered an explanation.
“It also is associated with travel, but mostly it’s travel among our own residents who have gone out of state and have come back,” said Dr. Julius Pham, one of the COVID physicians at the Queen’s Medical Center.
The medical experts also underscored the gravity of the situation, saying that hospitals are overflowing with COVID patients and quickly running low on supplies.
Councilmember Tommy Waters called the testimony “sobering.”
The city has roughly 10,300 employees and about 8,800 are vaccinated, said Blangiardi. Another 400 employees did not respond to the city’s inquiries, but the mayor said most are already on leave.
The governor and mayors are pleading with residents to avoid gatherings over the Labor Day holiday, and Blangiardi has pledged a crackdown. He said police will issue $250 citations to anyone caught breaking the gathering rules, which prohibit more than 25 people from coming together.
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