Danny De Gracia: It's Time To Drop The COVID-19 Tier System - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.


The question on everyone’s mind on Oahu seems to be, “When will we be in Tier 4 and loosen the COVID-19 restrictions?”

The current reopening system, also known as “the tier strategy,” is essentially a local adaptation of the Prevent Epidemics COVID-19 Playbook, which focuses on science-based templates for when to close and when to open a community based on the spread or decline of COVID transmission.

Unfortunately, our local leaders are trying to square a circle when it comes to COVID-19.

On one hand, our leaders privately recognize, as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned, “We may be done with the virus, but clearly, the virus is not done with us.” There is a critical need to follow through with containing the spread and eventually eliminating COVID-19 from Hawaii.

But on the other hand, as we have seen from Mayor Rick Blangiardi and Gov. David Ige’s “modifications” to the tier strategy, public health sometimes has to take a back seat to economic needs and restless populations. It was announced last week that Oahu, not surprisingly, will stay in Tier 3 restrictions for another four weeks, even though some say we should be returning to Tier 2 due to higher case numbers.

If we are going to have rules that we don’t uniformly follow and proceed as if numbers only matter when we like the numbers that present themselves, we might as well just abolish the tier system and replace it with something else.

From the beginning, our public never really understood Honolulu’s complex, micromanagerial, and sometimes contradictory pandemic rules. Our local restrictions were so stringent that even the former U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams – who was in Honolulu to help with the 2020 surge – got pinched with a citation in October of last year for taking pictures at a closed beach park.

Now, we find ourselves in a new era where the CDC says that vaccinated people can engage in a wider range of activities, but we aren’t going to allow that because it complicates enforcement. Simultaneously, we see warning signs in case numbers for which the COVID-19 playbook dictates we should tighten restrictions, but we won’t do that either, because we need the money.

What a doozy!

Residents have every right to scratch their heads when our government moves the goal posts due to politics or modifies the COVID-19 trip wires to suit economics. As it is, almost no one trusts Hawaii government in general, and when we do things like this, it only further entrenches the perception that the public is a hostage.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi speaks with Communications Director Tim Sakahara before his first State of Honolulu speech.
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi is ignoring the tier system for COVID-19 anyway. So why not just get rid of it? Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Now, as someone who has lost several close friends to COVID-19 on the mainland, I know all too well what happens when a community lowers its guard and assumes this virus is no big deal – people die. But 2021 is not 2020, and there are many advantages we have against COVID now, not the least of which includes multiple, effective vaccines.

Rather than modifying the tier system or bending the rules of the 2020 playbook any further, we ought to just retire that framework entirely. Besides, while there are still some restrictions on indoor gatherings or certain activities like nightlife establishments, for the most part Oahu is already open in many regards.

Most stores across Oahu are already jam packed with shoppers in close proximity. People are routinely dining in crowded restaurants with masks off. People are getting haircuts and face-to-face manicures.

When one really thinks about it, is there a difference between standing in a crowded shopping line with 30 people waiting to check out, and 30 people meeting together in a group event? Is there really a difference between a restaurant full of people eating with masks off, and a conference full of people with masks on?

If we are going to act as if this is completely okay, we might as well just drop the tier system and fully reopen Oahu with the precondition that all activities are permitted, but everyone must do them while still wearing masks and social distancing. This proposed direction would put in everyone’s minds an expectation that every place and everything in Honolulu is essentially at high risk for COVID infection, and people would either willingly choose to stay home, or go and get vaccinated as quickly as possible to prevent getting sick.

Our present system offers a false sense of security and in many ways encourages people to dilly-dally when it comes to getting vaccinated. Yes, polls show that many people are enthusiastic about getting the vaccine, but as long as we have the tier system, people can assume there will always be time to get vaccinated later. By contrast, if we tell everyone that Oahu is open right now, people may be compelled to get their shots much faster.

I have always believed that beyond flattening the curve in early 2020, the real reason for COVID-19 restrictions was to save enough lives and buy enough time for scientists to develop a vaccine that worked.

We have already accomplished that. Perhaps now we should just focus on encouraging vaccination, rather than maintaining a paradigm that was never meant to be permanent.


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About the Author

Danny de Gracia

Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at dgracia@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.


Latest Comments (0)

The tier system was something Caldwell help craft to provide a non-sensical back drop to banning people from beaches, public parks and from hiking.  Things that we should have been doing, outside in the sunlight, where warm humid air was the anti-viral.  It's time to punt the outdated and out of touch with today's current state of the state, system and look toward new standards of wellness.  There is absolutely no issue with hospitals being overwhelmed and over 50% of the population has had at least 1 shot.  The only tears left are for Caldwell's poor handling of the COVID situation a year ago.  What a difference a year makes! 

wailani1961 · 1 month ago

I don't think we need to get rid of the tier system, it was created to give definite guidelines so everyone is on the same page and using the same game book, it is not perfect. It is a system that may be dismissed after we reach herd immunity and that is projected I think in summer or maybe by the end. Opening up the flood gate before the patch is stable makes no sense given we had to put up with it for more than 1 year already. The difference between 500 people being in Costco vs at the sporting event is the amount of respiratory exposure you have given the length of time you are close to the infected person and for the amount of vocalization involved. Both increased with sporting events and conferences. The way we can encourage vaccines are by increasing the cost vs benefit. We should put a deadline on this full coverage for the vaccine and covid treatment.  If the fear of having to pay for the vaccine if you wait may make the "on the fence"  people take it. Also, if people had to be saddled with the co-payment for all these covid treatments like they are with other diseases, they may choose to take the vaccine. 

Cyo · 1 month ago

When I see people still driving in their cars alone and wearing masks it makes me wonder what they are REALLY trying to avoid 

GetWokeGoBroke · 1 month ago

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