Mayor says no new COVID restrictions planned but ‘we will drop the hammer’ if needed
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi doubled down on his message of personal responsibility Wednesday, saying he has no plans to institute new COVID restrictions as infections continue to skyrocket but instead asked people to take precautions and get boosted.
“We’re not going to announce any restrictions at this time,” Blangiardi said in a news conference, adding “we will drop the hammer if we have to.” “It’s about personal responsibility. We will be nimble as a city administration. Our eyes are on the hospitals. We will not allow our hospitals to get overrun.”
In a separate news conference Wednesday, state Health Director Dr. Libby Char expressed disappointment at Blangiardi’s decision ahead of New Year’s celebrations.
“Personally I think it would have been a good thing to limit high-risk activities,” she said. “We are in the middle of a pandemic.”
While speaking to reporters outside Honolulu Hale, Blangiardi pushed back against those who have criticized his approach to the alarming surge in cases, noting the Omicron mutation is different from Delta. It is more transmissible, but experts say it could also be milder for those who are vaccinated.
The mayor added that more new restrictions will hurt the economy.
“Now is not a time to start closing businesses. We’ve been pretty much on life support in many ways here,” he said. “We don’t have the unemployment money or the special emergency money.”
And he pointed out that “soft lockdowns” are already happening, as individuals and businesses voluntarily take their own steps to prevent COVID’s spread by canceling gatherings or events.
“The soft lockdowns right now is what we’re relying on. A lot of people are just saying, you know what I’m not going to do it,” Blangiardi said.
Given that, he said he’s asking bars and nightclubs to voluntarily suspend dancing at New Year’s events because “that activity ... has helped create some of the case counts.”
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“If you could suspend dancing, we are going to allow you to bring people in. Treat it like a restaurant. If you want to play live music, it’s New Year’s Eve, but we’re going to really sincerely ask you because we know for a fact ... that activity helped create some of the case counts we’ve been dealing with.”
He added, “Make no mistake about it, we have the hammer in this deal and we will drop the hammer if we have to. What we’re asking now is for compliance.”
Businesses expressed relief that the city isn’t imposing new restrictions.
“Any new restrictions going forward are going to have a pretty negative impact on restaurants and businesses in general,” said Ryan Tanaka, incoming chair for the Hawaii Restaurant Association.
The association said about 100 restaurants have closed during the pandemic and that new restrictions could force more out of business.
However, a growing number of medical experts have said it’s time to reinstate some restrictions on large gatherings, bars and nightclubs and other sources of COVID spread.
Dr. Scott Miscovich of Premier Medical Group is among them.
“All the data shows that we are going to have an extreme spike. We’re going to be in the 5,000 range sometime by mid-January,” said Miscovich.
“Remember, the hospitalizations lag about ten to 14 days after the positvity,” he added.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green has also supported bringing back new rules on gathering sizes.
“I think that pretty soon we’re going to reach a threshold where the mayors will very likely need to all go to some kind of decision about large gatherings,” Green told Hawaii News Now on Wednesday.
There are now 127 people hospitalized with COVID in Hawaii. At least 60 are fully vaccinated.
On Dec. 13, by comparison, there were 34 people hospitalized with COVID statewide.
“People really need to get a booster shot because almost all of the people who are very sick are unboosted,” Green said. “In order to prevent severe disease ... you need to have that booster.”
The Healthcare Association of Hawaii noted that hospitals aren’t just treating COVID patients. There are 2,220 patients in Hawaii hospitals right now. At the peak of the last surge, there were 2,365.
“This means the hospitals are pretty full, even without additional COVID patients,” the association said.
“Hospitals in Hawaii are working hard to prepare for a surge in COVID patients, and are already seeing some of their own staff call in sick or having to isolate because of a potential exposure.”
Meanwhile on Wednesday, the seven-day average for new cases in Hawaii was 1,485 ― up 551% from two weeks ago. On average, 13% of those getting COVID tests are coming back positive.
On Oahu, the test positivity rate is 15%. The seven-day average for new cases is 1,268.
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