Oahu is inching closer to Tier 3 of its reopening plan, which could mean larger gatherings and fewer restrictions on a wide array of businesses.

Oahu residents will learn next week Wednesday if Mayor Rick Blangiardi will approve a move to Tier 3, which requires low case counts and testing rates for two consecutive weeks. Under Tier 3 rules, parties of 10 people would be allowed to gather and dine at restaurants rather than five. Car dealerships would open for walk-in business, and funerals would permit up to 25 guests rather than 10, among other new rules.

Honolulu has been in Tier 2 since Oct. 22, but this week has maintained an average of fewer than 50 new cases daily and, for two weeks, fewer than 2.5% of COVID-19 tests were positive  — both indicators the city may advance to the next level.

At a press event for Honolulu Crime­Stoppers, Blangiardi said the numbers looked encouraging and that he may relax even more restrictions than outlined by former Mayor Kirk Caldwell, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Meanwhile, a ripple effect of winter storms on the U.S. continent continued to hinder Hawaii’s vaccine rollout.

Hawaii state health officials said they expected about 43,000 doses this week and going forward — an allotment necessary to begin the vaccine rollout’s Phase 1c in March.

Instead, the islands received just 19,500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, 9,750 of which arrived Thursday, according to DOH Spokesman Brooks Baehr. Another 27,700 doses of the Moderna vaccine will arrive late, but the shipments are expected by next Wednesday, along with another 50,000 doses of both Pfizer and Moderna vaccine that should arrive on schedule next week, he said.

“Hawaii is not alone. Foul weather has delayed delivery of vaccines across the country,” he said. The Pfizer vaccine is mailed from Kalamazoo, Mich. and the Moderna vaccine ships from either Memphis, Tenn. or Louisville, Ky., he said.

Our Weekly COVID-19 Update

The state is capable of putting as many as 80,000 shots in arms per week, Baehr told Civil Beat columnist Denby Fawcett earlier this week.

“If we could average 80,000 vaccinations a week over the next 25 weeks, we could put 2 million shots in arms by the first week in August,” he told Fawcett. “We would be done.”

Cases are declining since the most recent spike in January. An average of approximately 36 people per 100,000 residents got a COVID-19 diagnosis this week, most of whom were in the 18-44 year old age category.

Hawaii has recorded an average of approximately 36 new COVID-19 cases per week, as of Friday. Department of Health

Hospitalizations are on the decline, with 39 in the hospital Friday, down from the most recent peak in early January, when 129 patients were hospitalized. The state’s rate of positive tests has also been on a downward trend since January, with 0.8% of tests returning positive for COVID-19 this week.

The state has recorded five COVID-19 related deaths since last Friday, taking the state’s death toll to 430.

A technical hiccup that occurred over the weekend paused the state’s electronic laboratory reporting system, resulting in what officials said were daily undercounts.

Even as Honolulu considers loosening restrictions, health officials continue to urge Hawaii residents and visitors to maintain proper hygiene and distance from others outside of their household bubbles, due to the confirmed presence of new, more contagious COVID-19 variants.

At least three people on Oahu were infected with a highly contagious COVID-19 variant that originated in the U.K. Dr. Sarah Kemble, the acting state epidemiologist said two of the three Oahu patients were in the same social circle, but none of them had a travel history, indicating the highly transmissible variant is likely circulating in the community.

Several others were infected with a variant associated with several large outbreaks in California.

Kemble’s team of epidemiological investigators at the DOH Disease Outbreak Control Division say they are monitoring several clusters on Oahu and Maui, the largest of which has affected the Maui Community Correctional Center, which reported its first inmate COVID-19 infection in early February.

In two-and-a-half weeks, the MCCC outbreak has burgeoned to 29 people, 25 of whom are still fighting the virus. Sixty-eight others are in quarantine. The Maui facility has tested 564 people to date, according to the Hawaii Department of Public Safety.

Eight Hawaii inmates have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began last year, including six at Halawa Correctional Facility and two at Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona.

Another cluster of 10 cases on Maui was linked to a single unspecified tourism accommodation.

On Oahu, the Disease Outbreak Control Division reported it is monitoring a cluster of 15 infections linked to a single gathering, as well as a string of three COVID-19 cases that occurred in a “cleaning service.”

The division announced in its weekly cluster report that it now has disease investigators and contact tracers fluent in more than 15 languages, including Japanese, Mandarin and Cantonese, Vietnamese, Ilocano, Tagalog, Cebuano, Indonesian, Malaysian, Hindi, Marathi, Spanish, German, Marshallese, Chuukese, Korean, Tongan, Samoan and Hawaiian.

DOH disease investigators also updated their definition of what constitutes a “cluster” of cases, from two cases to three or more confirmed probable cases linked to a particular site that occurred within two weeks.

“This change was made to reduce ‘noise’ related to sporadic cases that may occur in the same setting, especially when community case rates are high,” officials wrote in the weekly cluster report.

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