The coming week or so will be hugely consequential in Hawaii’s battle against coronavirus — the consequence being, more or fewer illnesses and deaths from the infectious disease it causes, COVID-19.
There is some hope, a greatly needed virtue in these difficult times, that the sacrifices made through social distancing are having a positive effect. In the global pandemic’s worst-hit areas of the nation, places where strict stay-at-home orders have been in force, there are hints that success lies ahead.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for example, was heartened over the weekend to see fewer deaths on Saturday than Friday — a single data point, he acknowledged, but something to watch for a trend.
That said, the spread of coronavirus has not yet hit its peak — a high point in the mortality to be hit by cities on the leading edge in the coming days. And experts all warn the public that everyone, in Hawaii as with every state, simply cannot afford to let down their guard.
Gov. David Ige issues that warning repeatedly, and offers condolences. On Monday, Hawaii’s death toll rose to five with the addition of the first fatality outside Oahu, in Maui County.
More broadly, the total number of cases was at 387 for the islands, up 16 from the day before. It was a more modest daily increase in the number of new cases, despite the fact that the count of tests being administered across the state has been rising.
The real gauge can be read in the next several days, as more of those results become public. But it is encouraging to see even that limited data available now as a signal that efforts do pay off.
Hawaii’s disease peak lies a few weeks off; everyone must do their part now. Statewide, Hawaii has a stay-at-home order in place, with allowances for essential businesses and government agencies and for conducting basic activities.
That commitment by the entire population means all the more that a lax attitude should not be tolerated, lest carelessness lead to any avoidable spread of the disease.
It’s that “now or never” impulse that is driving county officials to consider tightening the restrictions further. Maui Mayor Michael Victorino, for example, is weighing a possible curfew and vehicle checkpoints to deter those who may be contemplating ignoring the stay-at-home order.
Similarly, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell expressed dismay that some are trying to circumvent the closure of beach parks, deciding that they can gather informally for barbecues and activities. Informal gatherings still translate into people mingling too closely with one another, and this extremely infectious disease can easily cross those gaps.
Caldwell praised the residents whose compliance is now evident in public places, and he’s right: The empty streets and highways stand as testament to that.
But there’s also anecdotal evidence of people who will not toe the line, or at least forget to do so. At permitted destinations, many people, some wearing masks, are edging closer than they should to each other.
A note: Cloth masks are only partial physical barriers to catch some of the virus that even those who feel no disease symptoms can spread. They are reminders of the current vulnerabilities, even a deterrent to those who might habitually touch their face and thereby risk infection.
They are also outward demonstrations of solidarity in a community fight, which has enlisted many crafters in producing the handmade masks visible everywhere. That’s encouraging.
But it’s not nearly enough. What counts is still keeping 6 feet away while in public, washing hands frequently. That’s what needs to happen, now more than ever.