Honolulu will suspend all large gatherings for four weeks beginning Wednesday as Hawaii struggles with soaring hospitalization rates due to the rapid spread of Covid-19.

Events that exceed current restrictions of 25 people outdoors and 10 indoors will be canceled, including conferences and concerts at mass venues such as the Blaisdell Concert Hall and the Waikiki Shell, Mayor Rick Blangiardi said Monday at a press conference.

Blangiardi said the decision was made after consultations with the state Department of Health and health care providers.

“We believe large gatherings are the fundamental cause of communal spread and consequently we will suspend all large gatherings for 28 days,” Blangiardi said. “We strongly believe the best way to protect yourself and our community is vaccination, and we urge the unvaccinated to get vaccinated now as our best weapon against this disease.”

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
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi announces that he is canceling large gatherings for the next four weeks due to the spread of Covid-19. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The announcement marked a reversal for Blangiardi who earlier this month insisted he had no plans to restrict social gatherings.

However, the delta variant has caused a sharp increase in the number of coronavirus cases and patients have begun to overwhelm hospitals. Authorities have pleaded with people to get vaccinated, saying the majority of infections are affecting people who haven’t received a shot.

Gov. David Ige announced new size restrictions on Aug. 10, with a cap of 25 people outdoors and 10 indoors. Restaurants, including luau were limited to 50% capacity.

But the state allowed for exceptions for professional events that adhered to safety protocols. Spectators are no longer allowed, but athletes can still play.

“We’re at a point right now after some 18-plus months dealing with this disease that we never really expected to be at,” Blangiardi said. “We worked nicely through all those many months with the other strains of Covid in a way that the community progressed really nicely, and we really thought we saw the light at the end of the tunnel.” 

These efforts come after a surge in Covid cases across the state in recent weeks. Hawaii logged 571 new cases on Monday, raising its total to 56,670. Oahu had the most cases with 359, followed by Hawaii island with 107, Maui with 79, Kauai with 23 and Lanai with two. One resident tested positive while out of state.  

Total hospitalization since the start of the pandemic is at 3,211, and seven new people have been hospitalized. No new deaths were reported, leaving the total at 564.

Only 62% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, and the Leeward side continues to have the lowest vaccination rates. Blangiardi said he hopes that more people will get vaccinated after the FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine earlier Monday.

Three vaccines including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson were given emergency use authorization by the FDA late last year. Only Pfizer has now received full authorization.

Honolulu Emergency Medical Services Department Director James Ireland at Honolulu Hale.
Honolulu Emergency Medical Services Department Director James Ireland at Honolulu Hale. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

James Ireland, head of the Honolulu Emergency Medical Services, thought that the pandemic would be over by now with the vaccines rolled out, but he said EMS teams are responding to more Covid-related calls.

He said EMS responded last Friday to four calls in a row for Covid patients, adding that The Queen’s Medical Center West Oahu had half their ER full of these patients. He worries that hospitals will no longer have the physical space for patients. 

“It’s like blowing up a balloon,” Ireland said about the stress on hospital resources. “You put a little more air in … but eventually there’s no more room in that balloon and it pops. And that’s where we literally are in Oahu’s hospitals for sure.”

The last time Honolulu hospitalization was at a high capacity rate, former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell instituted a two-week stay-at-home order. However, Blangiardi said he will not consider doing that.  

Blangiardi said the Honolulu Police Department will crack down on large gatherings, adding that HPD shut down a Waianae party on Saturday after receiving a tip.

“We want to be as responsible as we possibly can be,” Blangiardi said. “Our actions are driven by that and what’s best for our community.”

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