Officials call for no gatherings over Labor Day weekend as Hawaii goes through ‘most severe part’ of COVID pandemic

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Case numbers continue to rise, hospitals remain stretched thin, the morgue is near capacity and 25 residents died in the last seven days due to COVID.

State and county leaders have said they do not want a state shutdown, but now a three-day weekend is looming and some officials say restrictions could be coming ahead of Labor Day weekend.

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“The reality is [the pandemic] is still here, and we right now in Hawaii, are going through the most severe part of the pandemic in almost this two-year period,” said Hilton Raethel, Healthcare Association of Hawaii president and CEO.  

The state is averaging nearly 900 cases daily. Health officials said one good thing this week is hospitalizations remained steady; fluctuating between 410 and 420 COVID-patients.

“Today, we’re at 414,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green. “Now, tragically, some of the counts have been lowered because there have been some fatalities in the last few days.”

However, hospitals and workers remain stressed.

“They’re having to place patients in hallways to make room, ER’s are overwhelmed because they can’t transport patients to other units like the ICU, it’s just getting really hard for nurses to care for people. They’re getting burnt out so it’s hard for them,” explained registered nurse Mackenzie Hennessy.

Raethel said ER holds, or emergency room holds, is when a person comes to the ER, no longer needs treatment, but needs to be admitted to the hospital but beds are not available. Some patients are left waiting in the hallway for hours until the right bed opens up.

“It is true that on occasions, and unfortunately more recently, a little more frequently than we would like that we will have a number of patients in our hospitals on ER hold,” Raethel said.

There are concerns large gatherings like the one DLNR/DOCARE and HPD officers had to break up Saturday will lead to more hospitalizations and deaths in the coming days.

“These are the same individuals who are out there having the parties, having the events, which is how they get infected,” explained Raethel.

“People who are not vaccinated, they’re just playing the odds and hoping that they don’t get sick or hoping they don’t get hospitalized, and they hope they don’t die, and when you play the odds, some people win, and some people lose, and unfortunately, we have an increasing number of individuals who are playing the odds and losing,” said Raethel on the increased number of deaths this past week.

“We have limited motoric capacity, we have limited storage for bodies, we want to be able to treat all these individuals and their families and these bodies with respect, but that is being stressed right now because of the number of deaths,” he continued.

DOCARE said the party was mostly college freshmen who felt they had been locked up since junior year of high school. Officers said there were no masks or social distancing during the event, and they put their officers at risk for potential exposure too.

“Those who attended the party; shame on you,” said DOCARE Enforcement Chief Jason Redulla. “Think about the effects this gathering can have on everyone, including the potential for a higher case count that could result in more severe public restrictions.”

Several state and county leaders had phone meetings on Sunday with health officials to discuss what happens next.

“In the short term, it’s all about behavior, and it’s all about masking and restricting gatherings,” explained Raethel. “That is a challenge in the short-term. And unfortunately, there’s a number of individuals in the state who don’t recognize that.”

“If we had people practicing good social distancing, mask-wearing and handwashing, we can control it. The question is, will enough people do that so that we don’t have to shut down the economy?” Raethel added.

From a healthcare standpoint, he said he continues advocating for gathering size restrictions, “the challenge is enforcement, and we understand that’s a real challenge, but then also shutting down the economy is a challenge as well,” said Raethel.

“I think everyone should, right now, operate under the assumption that they should not gather at all over Labor Day weekend,” Green said.

“We cannot afford to put gasoline on this fire,” he continued.

Find more COVID-19 news: cases, vaccinations on our Coronavirus News page

Mayor Rick Blangiardi and Gov. David Ige would have the final say to cancel Labor Day weekend, but some believe it is best to have no gatherings at beaches and parks for those three days.

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