Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi was critical of his predecessor’s pandemic response system before and after he was elected, but now that he’s officially in charge of city hall, he said he’s going to keep it, at least for now.

“We’re just steady as she goes right now,” he said at his first mayoral press conference on Thursday. “It’s a very fluid situation.”

Mayor Rick Blangiardi holds his first press conference outside Honolulu Hale. January 14, 2021.
Mayor Rick Blangiardi held his first mayoral press conference outside Honolulu Hale. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The tier system introduced by former mayor Kirk Caldwell dictates restrictions on social gatherings and business activities based on Oahu’s COVID-19 case count and test positivity rate.

Currently, the island is in Tier 2, which restricts gatherings to five people or less, prohibits team sports, limits retail and religious facilities to 50% capacity and mandates that bars and nightclubs stay closed, among other restrictions.

A move to a more lenient tier requires that the virus statistics stay below a certain threshold for two weeks in a row: cases below 50 and a positivity rate below 2.5%.

With recent case numbers over 100 per day, Oahu is not on track to advance to a less restrictive tier.

After the November election, Blangiardi expressed an interest in reopening bars and youth sports.

“I really want to take a look at that versus keeping everything shut down,” he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “At some point, we need to learn to live with this disease. And we’ve been living with this a long time.”

On Thursday however, as health officials reported 122 new COVID-19 cases and five deaths on Oahu, the mayor said that he would like to allow sports and the reopening of closed businesses but offered no immediate plans to do so. He noted though that the delivery of vaccines should help.

Blangiardi said he will continue to utilize a panel of medical experts that Caldwell relied on throughout last year.

At the press conference, the new mayor fielded questions about the city’s pandemic response and other topics as well.

When it comes to the homeless population, Blangiardi said the city will continue daily sweeps of encampments. That is despite his belief – stated throughout his campaign and still now – that the practice does nothing to address homelessness.

He said it is his goal to halt the practice, which defies pandemic guidelines from federal health officials, but he offered no timeline for when the city would stop.

“You can’t just transform it all that quickly,” he said. “We just haven’t developed our game plan yet, but we will shortly.”

As for the city’s financial position, Blangiardi was unable to answer specific questions on Thursday. He said he has not read a revised city budget left behind by Caldwell and wasn’t sure whether city employees would need to be laid off or furloughed, although he said he wanted to avoid that.

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