Hawaii recorded its third coronavirus-related death on Friday as state officials activated up to 250 troops from the Hawaii National Guard to help with airport screenings and other tasks in the battle against the growing pandemic that has topped 300 cases in the islands.
The latest fatality was an elderly Oahu resident who had been hospitalized in critical condition on life support for several weeks after returning from Washington state. Meanwhile, the tally of coronavirus cases in Hawaii rose Friday to 319, up 34 from Thursday.
That follows the death of two Oahu residents, a woman who died Wednesday and an older man with preexisting medical conditions who died Monday, becoming the state’s first fatality.
“It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Gov. David Ige said at a briefing Friday. “The fight against COVID-19 is a marathon. We can only be successful if we work together as a community. Each and every one of us has to take responsibility for our actions. We should all treat everyone else as if they are COVID-19-positive and only be leaving our residence to acquire essential food and other materials.”
The latest death is a “tragic reminder of the virulent and contagious nature of this virus,” said Health Director Bruce Anderson. He said the disease is affecting all age groups, though it is particularly dangerous for older people.
“We all must work together to stop the spread of this deadly disease. Stay healthy by staying home, and if you must go out, always keep a 6-foot distance from others,” he said.
Health officials are trying to slow the spread because Hawaii is running low on personal protective equipment, ventilators and other needed medical supplies. The federal government has directed the states to procure their own supplies amid a global shortage.
“There are significant challenges in terms of acquiring enough PPE for the state of Hawaii,” said Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, director of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. “We are making decisions on a day-to-day basis, evaluating burn rates, supplying to hospitals and long-term care facilities.”
The shortage of protective equipment is affecting private providers, some of whom are closing up practices that are a critical part of Hawaii’s health care infrastructure, officials said.
Starting Monday, the National Guard will serve as additional manpower in the state’s response to the pandemic, assisting in taking temperatures and other medical screenings of passengers at Hawaii airports and helping to coordinate the distribution of medical supplies and personal protection equipment.
Hawaii National Guard Brig. Gen. Moses Kaoiwi Jr., who was appointed Joint Task Force commander, said four companies of more than 50 troops each will be assigned to each of the four main islands. All told there will 292 active guardsmen available for duty, officials said.
The troops also will boost manpower at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency operations center and the state’s COVID-19 Joint Information Center and will provide security and law enforcement backup on all the islands, including helping with security checkpoints on Kauai. Kaoiwi said members of the guard may also be asked to help with disinfecting and cleaning when necessary.
None of the soldiers or airmen will be armed, but that could change if an escalating situation demands it, Hara said.
With Hawaii under a state of emergency, residents are directed to stay home and go out only for essential activities at least through April 30. Essential activities include grocery shopping; picking up takeout food, medicines and gasoline; taking care of the elderly, minors and those with disabilities; and going to medical appointments.
State officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are urging citizens to wear cloth masks while in public.
The state is projecting the COVID-19 threat to the islands will continue over the next few months.
“The projections at least suggest that we’re gonna be looking at at least a month until we actually reach our peak, and then we can expect the disease to tail off. It may be considerably longer than that. Time will tell as to how effective our mitigation measures are,” Anderson said.
“One of the issues associated with flattening the curve is it can be extended a bit when you do that. That’s generally considered to be worth the price ’cause you’re not having so many people infected with serious illness that you can’t treat.”
Anderson said it could be several months before the curve begins to drop and the state can start thinking about relaxing some of the mitigation measures it has imposed on residents and visitors. The state has 14-day quarantine restrictions on all travelers, including between the islands.
The statewide total includes 237 cases on Oahu, 36 in Maui County, 20 on Hawaii island, and 13 in Kauai County. All three deaths have been on Oahu and most of the new coronavirus cases are in Honolulu County. Maui County reported the first positive tests on Molokai and in Hana. Eleven cases in the statewide total are pending identification of county. The statewide total for coronavirus cases also includes two Hawaii residents diagnosed outside of the state.
More than 12,000 COVID-19 tests have been completed in state lab tests. Of all the confirmed cases in Hawaii since the start of the outbreak, 21 have required hospitalization. A total of 78 patients have recovered since the start of the outbreak.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green said the latest fatality is tragic but also not unexpected “given the number of cases we have in the islands.”
“About one out of every 100 people affected by COVID-19 need critical care and can die,” Green said. “That’s why we have to do everything possible to shelter in place and adhere to social distancing. That’s the only way we get through this without lots of fatalities.”
The lieutenant governor, who has been heading community efforts to prepare for a surge in cases, said the state is tracking almost exactly at the curve predicted a week ago.
“Eight days into the lockdown we’re succeeding as long as we keep this up,” he said. “Everyone please be careful. One of my best friends from college (Associated Press editor Anick Jesdanun) who was just 51 years old died from COVID-19, and he was marathoner. That tells us how serious this disease is.”