While Hawaii is among the states with the fewest coronavirus cases, it still does not meet the criteria to reopen May 1.
President Donald Trump, eager to reopen America and revive the flailing economy, issued guidelines Thursday for states to begin lifting stringent quarantine and stay-at-home orders amid the pandemic.
“While there were only 11 new positive cases today, and it appears Hawaii is flattening the curve, the state currently doesn’t meet the criteria for a phased opening,” said Gov. David Ige, adding that under the federal guidelines, states are required to have a drop in cases for 14 days. “We are not there yet, so please continue your hard work and perseverance. We will get through this together.”
Ige said in a Facebook series, Community Connection, that he is being careful not to jeopardize the “very good position” of the state, which has not yet seen a critical peak in cases like other places, including New York and New Jersey, where thousands have succumbed to the virus.
“We don’t want to be like New York or New Jersey where we have so many cases that we don’t have ICU units or ventilators. We want to make sure, first and foremost, that the conditions are right,” Ige said. “We would want to begin to have more economic activity so we can generate the revenues that the state and county needs, but we want to do it in a thoughtful way.”
Part of that would be a new normal for businesses that would need to operate in a way that reduces the risk and spread of infection, including managing the number of customers in grocery stores and making sure people are social-distancing at dine-in restaurants, he said.
“We would be looking at those kinds of things … and begin to weigh the risks and the benefits and then slowly look at reopening their activities,” he said. “Certainly, the mandatory quarantine will be in place for a while. We do know as we manage the infections in the state that we don’t want someone infected coming from out of state and coming into our community. That will probably be one of the last things that we look at ending.”
The state’s mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for out-of-state passengers arriving in Hawaii started three weeks ago. On Wednesday, 764 people arrived in the islands, including 105 visitors and 480 residents, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. By comparison, there were nearly 30,000 passengers arriving daily in Hawaii during this time last year. The quarantine order was expanded to interisland travelers April 1.
Under the federal guidelines, states with declining infections and a robust testing system can gradually reopen in phases. The first phase calls for continued strict social distancing while in public, prohibiting gatherings larger than 10 people and discouraging nonessential travel. Travel can resume in the next phase, but people would be encouraged to maximize social distancing and limit gatherings to no more than 50 unless there are precautionary measures in place. Most Americans could return to normalcy in the final phase, with a focus on identifying and isolating new infections.
The state’s coronavirus cases climbed by 11, to 541, with the death toll remaining at nine. A total of 374 patients have recovered since the start of the outbreak — nearly 70% of those infected in Hawaii. Of the 21,681 coronavirus tests so far conducted by state and clinical laboratories, 2.5% have been positive.
The global pandemic has created an unprecedented economic crisis, with Hawaii projecting a $1.5 billion budget shortfall due to plummeting tax collections. Ige is considering salary reductions or furloughs for government employees, including himself and his Cabinet members, and other cost controls.
“State government will no longer look the same as we move forward. Hawaii’s economy is at a complete standstill,” he said. “$1.5 billion is a lot to make up. We must look at everything, including personnel costs — by far the largest share of our budget. These are tough times for everyone. More difficult decisions will have to be made before we emerge as a community, reopen our economy and eventually return to a new normal.”