Honolulu will need to reduce its COVID-19 case counts and positivity rate if there’s any hope of easing pandemic rules by Thanksgiving, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said on Monday. 

The island is currently in Tier 2 of the city’s reopening plan, which restricts gatherings to five people, among other rules. Last week, there was a 71-count rolling average of cases and a 2.7% positivity rate.

To move on to relaxed restrictions allowed under Tier 3, the island has to have two consecutive weeks with a seven-day average of 20 to 49 cases per day and a test positivity rate of 1% to 2.49%. Tier 3 would allow up to 10 people to gather.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell at press conference announcing additional rooms for kamaaina that need to quaranting due to COVID-19 concerns. October 19, 2020
“Let’s get back on track,” Mayor Kirk Caldwell said at a Monday press conference. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Two weeks of cases over 100 would trigger a reversion to more limited Tier 1 rules: Restaurant visits would again be limited to five people of the same family unit, personal care services would have to move outdoors, legal short-term vacation rentals would be shut down, gyms would be closed and other activities would be restricted.

“None of us want to go back,” Caldwell said. “The virus doesn’t take a break. Neither should we take a break. We need to do more. We need to dig deep.” 

The mayor urged residents and visitors to adhere to virus rules and guidelines including wearing masks when distancing from non-household members is not feasible; not gathering in groups larger than five; and quarantining or isolating when virus contraction is suspected or confirmed.

Caldwell said he wants to avoid another stay-at-home order, which has occurred twice this year. Under the current plan, Tier 1 is the strictest option. It allows social gatherings of up to five people in most places, including parks, pools, real estate appointments, car dealerships and more.

The mayor encouraged the public to take advantage of the resources the city offers to control the spread of the coronavirus.

There are about 20,000 COVID-19 tests leftover from the federal surge testing effort that are still available for free, the mayor said, and he is encouraging people, particularly hotel workers, to take advantage of them.

There are also up to 452 hotel rooms for isolation and quarantine available to residents at two Waikiki properties. As of last week, only about a third of the rooms were filled, according to the mayor. Right now, the hotels are offered to people who are sick and request a room.

“I think we can do a better job,” Caldwell said. “We need to be more aggressive and knock on doors of those who have tested positive and provide them the opportunity to quarantine safely and not infect other household members.”

Honolulu has also used CARES Act money to hire 130 contact tracers, Caldwell said. He said they make calls to people who have tested positive within 24 hours of their positive result. Their “success rate” of getting information from patients is 50%, the mayor said, because people either don’t pick up their phones, offer wrong phone numbers on their testing forms or refuse to answer contact tracers’ questions.

The mayor urged COVID-positive people to cooperate with contact tracers so they can do the work of identifying virus clusters and notifying people who may have been exposed.

“Please, if you test positive, if you get a call, please answer the questions,” he said. “This is not a threat from someone. This is about protecting those who you love the most.” 

Existing contact tracing information shows that the virus is spreading throughout the community when people gather, the mayor said. And it’s not always large gatherings, he said. Sometimes COVID-19 spreads among small groups of family and friends who gather closely without masks because they have their guard down.

“This virus spreads so easily,” he said. 

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