Blangiardi to hold off on tier changes as COVID-19 cases surge

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Honolulu’s new mayor will hold off on any changes to the tier system, after a surge in new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. Gina Mangieri spoke with Mayor Rick Blangiardi in his first interview since being inaugurated.

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The new mayor has had to shuffle some priorities around within his first six days in office, moving vaccination and readiness for possible unrest related to the presidential transition to the front-burner.

Prior to taking office, Blangiardi said he would tweak the tier system with attention to areas still off limits, like bars and kids sports.

“I was really looking forward to engaging in a conversation about the tier system,” Blangiardi said, “What kind of relaxation now that we’ve moved into a different time in this disease with respect to not only Hawaii having had good numbers, but as people begin to get vaccinated.”

But he says Honolulu’s recent surge of cases in the triple digits have caused him to hold back on what would have been a major announcement as soon as this week.

“All of that got tabled as a result of Thursday’s spike,” he said. “So what we’ve done is gone along, and I don’t want to get out in front of the state, I just came from a briefing this morning a little while ago, with (what) we’ve been asked to do, which is sort of a cooling-off period. We’re going to wait and see whether this was simply (and) hopefully a holiday spike, and not a third wave.”

It will be full speed ahead on ramping up COVID-19 vaccination, which has lagged here in Hawaii far behind the number of doses delivered to the state, a pattern seen nationwide.

“By the first quarter, I think you can expect, and we hope that we’ll get, a minimum of 200,000 people vaccinated, if not a high of 700,000,” Blangiardi said. “I think some of that is going to depend on the access and the vaccine. But clearly we want to do that, so I know we’re working on making the Blaisdell Center available.”

Another public safety concern that has leapfrogged to the top of the priority list: last week’s Capitol riots by Trump supporters in Washington and a warning Monday from the FBI to expect armed protests at all 50 state capitals this weekend. Blangiardi got a briefing with the Honolulu Police Department about it Monday morning.

“We have another meeting scheduled to get some more detailed information,” Blangiardi said. “Obviously, I’m really dismayed by that, as all of us should be. Certainly, we don’t want to see anything like that locally.”

Blangiardi’s cabinet had their orientations on Monday and are picking up wherever the last administration left off, including focusing on distributing any remaining CARES Act relief money as grants to individuals, families and businesses.

“Any dollar and every dollar we can possibly find, we’re interested in getting our hands on to distribute,” Blangiardi said. “We do have meetings over the next couple of days on rent, for landlord relief. We have several groups coming in here, and we’re trying to listen, we’re trying to engage, we’re trying to be responsive and resourceful. We want to get money in the hands of people. That is a big, big issue.”

Blangiardi was also set to talk to Gov. David Ige on Monday regarding the status of pending executive order requests Kirk Caldwell had submitted before leaving office. Things like Caldwell’s request for a system allowing post-arrival COVID-19 tests to shorten quarantine for traveling locals and visitors.

“Is there carryover? Absolutely,” Blangiardi said. “I think that Mayor Caldwell’s intentions were appropriate and on course, from everything I heard in our debrief. We spent a number of hours in debriefing on the transition so nothing is going to die, and we’re just going to try to move forward.”

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