Daily COVID-19 cases and positivity rate to determine reopening phases for Honolulu

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Oahu community members and businesses have a path forward on reopening during the pandemic, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said it will be based on the daily number of COVID-19 cases and the percentage of positive tests.

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Caldwell said Honolulu will follow a four tier system for reopening phases. If COVID-19 cases and positivity rates remain low for two weeks, the County moves forward, but if any of the two see a rise, the County will move back.

Caldwell said, “Right now with what we’re seeing we can move to tier two at the end of October, we go into tier two, and then the number of cases skyrockets we go back to tier one.”

The mayor said this is a conservative approach to reopening, and that it is much easier to go backward rather than forward under the new four-tier system.

Tier one, where Oahu currently stands for at least four weeks, means there is a high level of community spread of the virus and there is a strain to the healthcare system. This tier also sees strains on COVID-19 testing capacity and contact tracing.

In order to move up to tier two, cases must stay between 50 and 100 cases a day and have a 2.5% to 5% positive case rate for two weeks.

Tier three would require the county to have a moderate level of community spread that does not overburden the hospitals and contact tracing. Tier four is the final phase for reopening, where the virus spread within the community would be low and health officials would be able to quickly isolate the positive case.

Honolulu starts in the bottom tier, but many businesses that were considered non-essential in the stay-at-home order are now able to reopen. The mayor said businesses that were shuttered can begin to reopen on Sept. 24 with 50% capacity, and the same rule applies to big box stores that remain open.

The no social gathering order was also lifted to allow groups of up to five people, this also includes at beaches and parks. Salons and barbershops may reopen by following COVID-19 best practices, and restaurants can serve guests indoors by limiting a table to five from the same household.

Caldwell said, “It has to be by reservation or you have to give your names of all those who showed up at the restaurant addresses, names for contact tracing.” 

The mayor said Honolulu is better prepared for the reopening phases than it was in May. The city reached an agreement with a call center to help DOH staff with contact tracing, it also acquired the Harbor Arms Hotel in Aiea to use as a quarantine location.

The property was initially purchased by the city for affordable housing units, Honolulu Councilmember Brandon Elefante said this project will eventually help house members of his district.

“At the same time, post COVID, that this will be used for affordable housing units which is direly needed for our island,” Elefante said. “I know the city and its partners will do its best to monitor those individuals that will be at this site during that time.”

The mayor said the four tiers gives transparency to the community and business leaders.

It also makes it clear that nothing is certain during the pandemic, entrepreneurs like Meilin Vitale-Vae had to strategize some changes. She did not renew parts of her commercial lease and had to scale down her brick and mortar Missing Polynesia shop.

“I made the executive decision to share with a few people of my team, go and find something that’s more stable and that’s essential that has a better future for yourself,” Vitale-Vae said. “Take classes, go do something that’s solid and concrete cause I can’t give you guys that.”  

The mayor said large events, bars and clubs will remain closed, they fall in the final fourth tier for reopening.

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