Just over a month after Hawaii health officials first discovered the presence of the omicron variant in Honolulu, the city is limiting the number of people who can attend large indoor events to try to slow the spread of omicron.

Honolulu will require that all indoor events with at least 1,000 people attending cap attendees to 50% or less of capacity. The rules will be in place for the last three weeks of January, Blangiardi said during a press conference with several leaders in Hawaii’s health care industry.

He said he will decide whether to extend or strengthen them based on how high Covid hospitalizations get and to what degree they’re stressing the health care system.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi announces a 50% reduction of indoor capacity attendance for large events. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Jill Green, president and chief executive officer of the Queen’s Health Systems, also announced plans to try to increase vaccination rates by 50%.

The majority of people hospitalized for Covid in Hawaii throughout the pandemic have been unvaccinated. During this surge, more people who have received two shots of vaccines have caught Covid and been hospitalized.

Mark Mugiishi, president and chief executive officer of the Hawaii Medical Service Association, said less than 10% of Covid hospitalizations are among those who received boosters but emphasized those with boosters haven’t ended up in Hawaii’s intensive care units.

Health care leaders and city officials are hoping that broader access to vaccines will encourage more eligible people to get booster shots.

“Vaccines have to become routine and not political,” Mugiishi said.

About 78% of Honolulu’s population has gotten vaccinated against Covid, but many people still haven’t received the booster shots that are recommended five months after receiving two shots of a Pfizer vaccine, six months after receiving two shots of a Moderna vaccine or two months after receiving a Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Covid cases have surged over the past month, with a seven-day moving average of 2,669 cases statewide. In Honolulu, more than 20% of Covid tests were positive Wednesday. Although Hawaii has been recording record-high cases for weeks, hospitalizations haven’t been as high as they were during the delta surge in part because omicron is resulting in less severe illness than delta and infecting more people who already received a vaccine.

Covid death rates still remain relatively low, with zero new deaths reported Wednesday. But daily Covid death counts are also expected to increase if hospitalization rates continue to worsen.

The mayor has been under pressure from the Hawaii Department of Health to impose restrictions to curb omicron’s spread and previously said he would consider restrictions after daily Covid hospitalizations exceeded 150.

Hilton Raethel, head of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said there were 226 Covid hospitalizations Wednesday. A fifth of them were incidental, meaning the patient went into the hospital for another reason and tested positive after being admitted.

Raethel said the delta surge reached a daily peak of 436 Covid hospitalizations. He expects Covid hospitalizations to peak in the omicron surge within the next two weeks.

Part of the challenge is staffing, with 1,000 health care workers out sick Tuesday due to omicron’s transmissibility. Hawaii also has a shortage of Covid treatments such as recently approved antibody pills, Rather said.

He urged people to take precautions such as getting vaccinated and boosted in light of the surge.

“It is not inevitable that you will get Covid,” he said.

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