Hawaii case numbers continue to rise as officials debate reopening date

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — As Governor David Ige and the county mayors consider whether to go ahead with the planned August 1 reopening of trans-Pacific travel to the islands, the number of coronavirus cases in Hawaii continues to spike.

The Hawaii Department of Health reported 42 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, the state’s highest one-day total since the pandemic began.

Oahu saw 38 cases, two were reported in Maui County and two on Hawaii Island, bringing the state’s total of confirmed cases to 1,200.

Several clusters have been popping up across Oahu. On Friday, the health department said it’s an example of ‘superspreading.’

[RELATED: 17 COVID-positive cases linked to 2 Oahu gyms]

Local leaders said that they’re concerned with the rise of cases on the mainland and the spike in Hawaii. They also said they understand the importance of reopening the economy and getting people back to work.

“Of course–airlines, restaurants, hotels–they don’t want to open up and then find out that they can’t because that’s a waste of money,” explained Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who was at a food distribution event on Saturday, July 11. “We want to give an answer, but we don’t want to give out any false promise by saying August 1, and then we say ‘No, it’s not really then,’ and I think we’re being cautious at this point.”

Mayor Caldwell said each mayor wants to ensure the health and safety of their residents first, but there are several factors to consider when it comes to welcoming back visitors including testing, contact tracing, and enforcing quarantine breakers.

“Everyone is working together to get the app up and running for immediate electronic sharing of information and making sure we have enough testing capacity and contact tracing. Until those are put in place, I think Aug. 1 could be a go, but those answers are not there so there is uncertainty,” explained Caldwell.

Mayor Caldwell said there have been discussions of pushing the re-opening date back to August 15, September 1, or indefinitely.

“There’s been discussions about don’t pick a date, set conditions that drive to a date, and those are the three scenarios and I can’t say which one is winning right now,” he explained.

Lt. Gov Dr. Josh Green said the surge in cases on Saturday is a result of the 4th of July holiday weekend. He said the state should consider going back to limiting gatherings to 10 people.

“Let’s do the basics, go down to groups of 10, wear masks absolutely wherever you are unless you’re at home with your family,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll begin to consider pulling back any large gathering settings and please–I want to respectfully ask the mayors especially–don’t encourage large group gatherings in indoor or outdoor settings or anything because it’s uncertain what the Department of Health can deliver on tracing because it’s just a big job, it’s not a criticism. It’s a big job.”

Lt. Gov Green said it’s imperative for the state to have 500 contact tracers in place before the state re-opens.

“So when they have these surges, they can be all over it and they can look under every rock and around every beach corner and everywhere because this could get away from us real fast,” he said.

On Friday, July 10, the state said one symptomatic person was part of a previous cluster who then went to a gym and infected the entire class. A person from that class then went to another gym and spread the virus to others.

“We have to have 500 tracers throughout the state tracing every last case so that the ‘superspreader’ gets caught in one day. We send a red team out, which we proposed two and a half months ago to the director of health to be able to go right on the spot and test,” Lt. Gov. Green said.

“This is probably the only game in town right now because the economy depends on it. The hospital’s capacity depends on it, and our lives depend on it. So if we’re sitting here next week still talking about not having 500 people out there tracing, then we’re not doing our job for the people of Hawaii,” Lt. Gov. Green said.

As for quarantine, Lt. Gov. Green said that residents have to remember that they need to quarantine when they come back from the mainland.

“With 700 people coming in a day–that’s 7,000 in 10 days. Some of those individuals are positive. But more importantly, when our own people come back, if they don’t follow quarantine that’s really where the spreading is occurring,” Lt. Gov. Green explained.

He anticipates Governor Ige to make an announcement early next week as to whether the August 1 date will get pushed back.

“First, we have to get the virus under control here and I do feel badly that individuals may have hoped to get a trip here to Hawaii in August, that is definitely not going to happen without a quarantine, the quarantine will still be there if people travel to Hawaii they will be forced to do 14-day quarantine,” he said.

“Let me be very clear, it’s not my call to make but I have every expectation that the governor and the mayors will announce a delay at least a month because of what’s happening on the mainland. I know that’s the desire of the DOH and I think that’s right at this point with this many cases in the mainland, plus with the surge here,” he explained.

Lt. Gov. Green said he’ll spend next week pressing for quarantine hotels to help with enforcement on quarantine breakers. However, he said that could be a federal call to make.

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