A television star and lawmaker are among the 10 most recent people in Hawaii to contract the coronavirus, which jumped to 26 from two cases in just one week.
Actor Daniel Dae Kim and state Sen. Clarence Nishihara on Thursday became the most prominent victims of COVID-19 sweeping across the state. A civilian employee at Tripler Army Medical Center also was the first confirmed case within the military community. As more test positive, health officials worry that community spread is imminent.
“We are at the point where everyone must understand how extremely serious this is. It’s historic in a sense that we have not seen a worldwide pandemic since the 1918 Spanish flu,” said Dr. James Ireland, a community physician in Honolulu. “We’re in big trouble if people don’t listen to these recommendations.”
Earlier this week Gov. David Ige directed all bars and clubs to shut down and all restaurants to close their dining rooms and shift to takeout, drive-thru or delivery service only. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell issued an emergency proclamation ordering Oahu restaurants and bars to make the drastic shift by 8:30 a.m. today .
The government is asking the public to limit social gatherings to groups of 10 people or fewer and directing theaters, entertainment centers, visitor attractions and places of worship to suspend all services and activities. Ige also has asked all visitors to Hawaii to postpone their trips for the next 30 days.
“We want to prevent the disease before it gets into our communities when it’s really too late to make effective changes,” said Health Director Bruce Anderson. “These bold and very aggressive measures taken here in Hawaii and throughout the U.S. is to prevent … problems from occurring here that we’re seeing throughout the world.”
But other state officials do not feel the measures are aggressive enough.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green is calling for the suspension of all nonessential travel to Hawaii and the closure of all businesses and schools until April 30 to prevent a mass outbreak. Hawaii airports will begin mandating 14-day self-quarantines for both residents and visitors coming to the islands, he said.
Green, who is also a practicing emergency room doctor on the Big Island and leading community efforts for widespread testing, said the state should also “contact test” every positive case and completely isolate them and begin screening all passengers at local airports.
Health officials must study the states that are two to four weeks ahead of us, and stand up extra hospital capacity “the second we see it could help,” while ordering millions of masks and swabs, he added.
“Every second they approximate Europe, we get closer to a mass fatality in Hawaii,” Green told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
House Speaker Scott Saiki is describing the handling of the pandemic thus far as “utterly chaotic,” and is urging Ige to required a complete shutdown of the state and having residents shelter in place for the next 15 days. Saiki also implored the governor to quarantine all travelers arriving from outside Hawaii for 15 days to protect against the virus, and prohibit all nonessential interisland and out-of-state travel.
In addition, nearly 100 Hawaii doctors and medical providers have signed a petition appealing to Ige to mandate the shutdown of all nonessential businesses and order residents to stay home.
Even as state officials insist there is no evidence of “extensive community transmission,” saying most cases are directly or indirectly related to travel or exposure to tourists, they warn that “every single new case is a potential for … starting community transmission somewhere in our state.”
To date, the Department of Health’s State Laboratories Division has completed 40 COVID-19 tests of seriously ill patients. It also examined 124 individuals with respiratory symptoms who tested negative for the flu as part of a broad community surveillance program. None were positive for the virus.
In addition, private labs have now swabbed more than 1,000 less severe patients referred by physicians.
“Regardless of whether closures happen, we are not living life as normal. We’re in a marathon in responding to this pandemic,” said state Epidemiologist Sarah Park. “Everyone needs to understand … it will not be business as usual. It could be months … potentially until the close of the year. It all revolves around social distancing.”