One year of COVID-19 in Hawaii: Could it have been handled better?


HONOLULU (KHON2) — Exactly one year ago, the first case of coronavirus was detected in Hawaii. Since then, the pandemic has killed hundreds in the state, crippled the economy and made protective face masks the norm.

On March 6, 2020 the state’s Department of Health confirmed the first case of COVID-19: an Oahu man who had contracted the virus while on board the Grand Princess cruise ship in Mexico.

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Within a week, the University of Hawaii suspended athletics and announced classes would continue online.

Then, on March 23, Former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced a stay-at-home, work-from-home order. Two days later, the entire state shut down, turning Hawaii into a ghost town.

By late March, the state implemented the mandatory two-week quarantine for travelers. All the while, unemployment claims reached 82,963.

Less than three weeks after the first case, Hawaii recorded the first confirmed coronavirus fatality.

Two weeks following the first recorded death, the state’s overall death toll rose to nine, while the total case count ballooned to 500.

In late April, officials required everyone to wear protective masks in Hawaii, ahead of the rest of the US. That’s one of the things Lieutenant Governor Josh Green said should have happened sooner across the country.

“If we had had a mask mandate from the federal government last summer, we would have saved 300,000 lives,” Green said. “We would have prevented 15 million cases.”

By early May, Hawaii’s cases began to decline and restrictions were slowly lift through June.

But the community, having endured closures, stay-at-home orders and mask mandates, had already begun to experience pandemic fatigue.

“Clearly by the Fourth of July weekend it was like the virus was not existent,” Governor David Ige said.

Then, the state’s progress began to take a turn.

In late July, Hawaii recorded its first daily triple-digit case count, with 109 reported by the state Department of Health. By Aug. 4, total cases climbed to 3,000, with 31 dead. Schools were left with no choice but to begin a new year with distanced learning.

Cases continued to soar through August, with one record-breaking daily count after another. Lt. Gov. Green announced 355 new cases, the highest single day total to-date, on Aug. 13, 2020.

The state would then see itself forced into another lockdown.

An outbreak at Oahu Community Correctional Center resulted in 181 inmates testing positive and a cluster at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo infected almost every patient there, leading to the loss of 27 lives.

In late September, Honolulu entered Tier 1 of its four-tier reopening strategy, and shifted to Tier 2, four weeks later. The City remained there until Feb. 25, 2021.

On the anniversary of Hawaii’s first COVID case, Green said 27,838 have been infected and 444 have died.

As he reflected, he said there were things he wished were handled differently.

“If we had been contact tracing and testing adequately, during the springtime, we could have avoided such a steep mountain of cases in the summer,” Green said. “That was one clear thing we could have done better.”

Even though Hawaii seemed to be able to contain the virus better than the rest of the country, the lieutenant governor says many lessons were learned.

“You have to be aggressive in these circumstances, for safety, and then use your analytics to make the decisions,” he shared.

Now that the vaccine is available and being administered to more residents each day, Green says things should return to some sense of normalcy within the next six months. But he added that the economic and psychological impacts will take much longer to recover from.

And although protective masks may no longer be required by late summer, Green says they’ll likely continue to be used by many to prevent catching illnesses as simple as the flu.

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