As Hawaii recorded its highest number of Covid-19 cases and deaths since the pandemic began, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi expressed concern but made clear Friday that he does not want to “lock down Oahu” again due to concerns about the economic fallout.

However, Blangiardi said the city was considering Covid vaccine or testing requirements for restaurants and other facilities as the influx of cases threatens to overwhelm hospitals.

“Whether something draconian will have to take place like a lockdown, which I’m not in favor of doing because of the economy in Hawaii and Oahu, at least, is significant and complicated,” Blangiardi said in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight” program.

“I’m not going to dance around it. I really don’t want to lock down Oahu,” he said, adding that he planned to discuss the issue with Gov. David Ige and the other county mayors later Friday. “I have a feeling that we’re not quite there yet. We want to go on as best as we can. Our focus single-handedly is getting people vaccinated.”

Mayor Rick Blangiardi announces at a press conference today that he is canceling large gatherings and is still allowing the gathering of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors during a surge in Covid-19 cases. August 23, 2021
Mayor Rick Blangiardi says Honolulu is focused on getting more people vaccinated to stop the rapid spread of new Covid cases. “I really don’t want to lock down Oahu,” he says. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Last summer, Honolulu required many businesses and other operations to close with stay-at-home orders as authorities ramped up testing, contact tracing and quarantine efforts amid previous spikes.

The state reported 1,035 new cases on Friday, bringing the total to 59,613 since the beginning of the pandemic. Oahu had 672 cases, Hawaii island had 184, Maui had 120, Kauai had 38 and Molokai had three. The new count included the 18 people who were diagnosed out of state. The overall positivity rate has risen to 8.4% for the state and 9.8% on Oahu.

Hawaii also reported nine coronavirus-related deaths, increasing the death toll to 582.

The statistics were the highest of the pandemic for single-day counts. There were higher figures, but those included data from previous days.

Blangiardi and other officials said they are watching hospitalizations closely in making decisions about restrictions due to rising concerns about capacity.

Blangiardi also announced that a city employee recently died after contracting the coronavirus – marking the first Covid-related death of a City and County of Honolulu worker. He didn’t provide details or say if the employee had been vaccinated. His office later expressed condolences and said contact tracing had confirmed that the transmission had occurred outside of work and no coworkers had been exposed. It declined to release more information, citing privacy reasons.

Earlier this week, Blangiardi suspended all large gathering events, including spectators at sporting venues, concerts, weddings and funerals that exceeded the recently imposed limits of 25 people outdoors and 10 indoors. This doesn’t include churches, which still has to be in groups of 10 people. 

Blangiardi said the city had canceled 26 events that had been planned for more than 1,000 people. He added that he had no plans to further reduce the number limits for gatherings.

The mayor also reiterated that Health Department data shows that the number of tourists among the Covid cases is low and community spread of the highly contagious delta variant is largely responsible for the recent spike in cases and hospitalizations.

“The tourists have not been responsible,” Blangiardi said. “This has been a locally driven situation. We need to start owning that. There’s a reality on who’s getting sick here, and it’s our local people.”

“They’ve been traveling to the mainland, getting sick, coming back, not quarantining, going out into the community and aiding in communal spread,” he said. “So let’s say it for what it is. We need to own this challenge. This is our thing to deal with, and those are the facts.”

“If I heard differently that our hospitals are being flooded with tourists, I would probably have a different opinion, but we’re trying to deal with fact here versus a lot of myth, a lot of fiction and quite honestly, in a lot of cases it’s just false,” he continued.

Blangiardi said he had initially planned to hold a press conference Friday morning to announce details about a vaccine passport for restaurants but canceled it after deciding such an announcement was premature.

“We decided that we didn’t want to speak prematurely until we really know what we’re dealing with, with respect to decision-making,” he said. 

Days after the FDA fully approved the Pfizer vaccine, Blangiardi said he’s hopeful that more people will get vaccinated. 

The state currently has 62.6% of the population fully vaccinated, but divisions over the issue also have intensified with protests against the vaccine held in recent weeks.

In his final remarks, Blangiardi said he doesn’t know what else to say to people who refuse to get vaccinated.

“I just hope you don’t get sick, and I hope you don’t die,” he said.

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