Oahu to shut down for 2 weeks, 'reset' pandemic response amid rise in Hawaii COVID-19 cases
There’s COVID-19 trouble in paradise.
Four weeks ago, Hawaii had a total of 1,688 confirmed coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic and was reporting an average of 45 new cases per day, according to an NBC News analysis.
Since then, the total number of COVID-19 cases has reached 6,700 and public health officials are now reporting around 200 new cases per day. During this time, the death toll has also nearly doubled, jumping from 26 to 49, the figures show.
Hawaii is the latest state to see increases in cases; the Southern and the Sun Belt states have been experiencing an explosion of new cases and deaths in recent months following many reopening in May at the urging of President Donald Trump just as the pandemic was picking up steam in those areas.
The death toll in the United States climbed to more than 180,000 Wednesday and the number of confirmed cases was fast approaching 6 million, according to the latest NBC News figures. Both are world-leading numbers.
While Hawaii’s numbers are low compared to the rest of the U.S., they have set off alarm bells and Gov. David Ige, a Democrat, has given the green light to a second “stay-at-home, work-from-home” order for the island of Oahu. It begins at 12:01 a.m. Thursday and will remain in effect for two weeks.
“In March and April, we were successful in flattening the curve,” Ige said at a press conference Tuesday, where he was joined by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who is also a Democrat, and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams. “We need to get that back under control.”
“This will be different from the last time,” Caldwell said. “We’re going to reset what we’re doing.”
So for the next two weeks, Hawaii public health workers will ratchet up the testing on Oahu, the state’s most populous island, and in the state’s biggest city, Honolulu, and hire between 250 and 500 contact tracers.
They have also booked an entire hotel Friday “with hundreds of rooms” where people who test positive, or have been in contact with people who've tested positive, will be quarantined away from their families and friends, Caldwell said.
“We’re going to see how it goes,” he said. “We’re hopeful that the number of cases will decline … If it doesn’t, we’ll look to continue it.”
The biggest outbreaks, Caldwell said, have been in the Pacific Islander and Filipino communities.
Adams said Hawaii has seen a leveling off in new cases but remains “at a turning point” and things could get bad “really quickly.”
“There is good news, most of you are doing the right thing,” he said. “Unfortunately, all it takes is one large gathering, one party, one group of individuals going to a bar to undo a lot of the progress and a lot of the work that the rest of the people across Hawaii are putting in to stop this virus.”
Jessica Yamauchi, who heads the nonprofit Hawaii Public Health Institute, applauded the governor’s move and noted that her state currently has an alarming 9.3 percent positivity rate. By comparison, New York state -- once the nation’s hot spot -- has had a positivity rate of less than 1 percent for 19 straight days, Gov. Andrew Cuomo reported Wednesday.
“While we are still waiting to review the latest emergency orders, we believe that additional restrictions were needed to lower our positivity rate and reduce transmissions in the community,” Yamauchi said. “We believe that the positivity rate should be used as a key metric to guide the state’s decisions on when to tighten or loosen restrictions on businesses, public services and institutions. The additional 5,000 tests per day over the next two weeks will also provide critical data needed to determine the best way to reduce community spread.”
U.S. deaths and cases account for a little over a fifth of the world’s more than 821,000 fatalities and about a quarter of the nearly 24 million confirmed cases across the globe.
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