Blangiardi: Safe Access Oahu program for eateries, gyms will likely be dropped in March

The city is poised to drop vaccine-or-test requirements for patrons of restaurants, bars gyms, movie theaters and other venues in early March, the mayor said Th
Published: Feb. 17, 2022 at 1:15 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 17, 2022 at 5:24 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The city is poised to drop vaccine-or-test requirements for patrons of restaurants, bars gyms, movie theaters and other venues in early March, the mayor said Thursday.

The city’s Safe Access Oahu program launched in September, and Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi told Hawaii News Now that he’s unlikely to extend the emergency order when it expires March 5.

“The only thing we have right now from the city is Safe Access Oahu and we think we are going to sunset that somewhere in the middle of March when our proclamation expires,” he said.

“We are not quite out of this. We just want to just get a little bit further before we make that call,” Blangiardi added. “We are pretty close, we are very close.”

Safe Access Oahu requires residents and visitors to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to patronize a restaurant, bar, gym, movie theater or arcade.

The restaurant industry has largely supported Safe Access Oahu, saying checking vaccination cards and test results is a hassle but preferred over other restrictions.

University of Hawaii economists also found the program helped to boost vaccination rates on Oahu.

Safe Access Oahu remains of the city’s toughest COVID mandates. The state, meanwhile, still has its indoor mask mandate in place and a vaccine-or-test rule for many state properties, including libraries.

The mayor’s move to drop Safe Access Oahu comes as Hawaii and the nation continue to see new COVID infections decline after the Omicron surge brought case levels to their highest of the pandemic.

And the impact of that surge is still being felt.

While hospitalizations are down, the state continues to see a high number of deaths. Sixteen COVID fatalities were reported Thursday, the second-highest count for a single day of the pandemic.

The state Health Department said Hawaii has seen 99 COVID deaths so far this month.

Meanwhile, new research shows almost three-quarters of Americans likely have some level of immunity from the Omicron variant because of the wave of winter infections and vaccinations.

“Between the effect of vaccination taking into account some waning plus the fairly large number of people who have recently contracted Omicron, at this point in time, probably about 73 percent of the US has protection against severe illness and death from Omicron,” said Tim Brown, an infectious disease expert and East-West Center Senior Fellow.

“I want to stress severe illness and death. We are not talking about total protection against infection,” he added.

Brown says there is waning immunity and believes people should still be careful about relaxing precautions.

“If you haven’t been vaccinated, if you haven’t been exposed to COVID in the past, then you are in that category where Omicron is still a high risk pathogen,” he said.

Los Angeles emergency physician Dr. Michael Daignault says recent data shows people who’ve been vaccinated and then infected with Omicron can have higher immunity from other variants.

“In places like Hawaii and here in Los Angeles where we already had broad population immunity from vaccination and then we had higher rates of omicron, that hybrid immunity is really strong,” said Dr. Daignault.

But he says it’s different for the unvaccinated who’ve been infected with omicron.

Dr. Daignault says now that the omicron surge is rapidly declining, it’s finally a good time to travel.

With new possible variants on the horizon, he worries about a spike in cases from the southern states during the hot summer months when people flee the heat for air conditioned buildings.

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