Hawaii has reached an apparent milestone in the coronavirus pandemic with just four new cases — the lowest daily increase in more than a month — and zero new infections on the most densely populated island, Oahu.
The islands have been spared so far from an anticipated peak in cases, unlike some mainland states, where outbreaks have resulted in thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of cases.
“It is phenomenal what’s being accomplished. The big news is that we’ve had zero cases on Oahu today, which is something actually to be astounded by,” Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Monday at the state’s daily COVID-19 briefing. “Your efforts are paying off, and I know that your sacrifice is immense.”
There were two new cases each reported on Maui and the Big island, bringing the number of cases statewide to 584, with no new infections on Oahu, Kauai, Molokai and Lanai. Of those cases, 423 have recovered, a rate of 72.4%. Hawaii has the second-lowest mortality rate in the nation, with 10 COVID-19-related deaths. State and private laboratories have conducted 24,543 tests, among the highest in the nation per capita.
If the state did not institute a 14-day quarantine for most interisland and out-of-state travelers and impose restrictions on residents to slow the disease’s spread, Hawaii would have seen 4,479 deaths by this time based on one model, Green said.
“This number would have been catastrophic. This is what would have happened if we had a surge,” which would have peaked sometime last week, he said. “We’re still not out of the woods yet. There’s obvious concerns still. I know everybody wants to get back to normal. COVID-19 is bound to be a part of our lives for some time. Please don’t lose hope. Know that you’ve done something quite extraordinary.”
While state officials and business leaders are targeting a reopening date for parts of the economy within a month, Gov. David Ige said he likely will extend Hawaii’s stay-at-home order past April 30. However, some restrictions on certain activities, including elective surgeries, may be lifted, he said.
“It is clear that my stay-at-home order is still necessary. I know that everyone is wondering when will we begin relaxing our social distancing restrictions. Businesses need to reopen, people want to get back to work and we want our lives to return to normal,” Ige said. “I want to assure you that any decisions we make will be based on facts, science and guidance from our health care advisers, but we are not there yet.”
Under guidelines by the federal government, states should see a 14-day reduction in the number of cases before reopening. Since a peak in cases at 34 on April 3, the state has seen a downward trend, though the numbers have not dropped consecutively for 14 days — an indicator that the virus is not a growing threat in the community.
“We don’t actually know yet that we’ve completely stamped out this virus,” Green said.
The Department of Health has not found additional cases in the state’s largest coronavirus cluster, at Maui Memorial Medical Center, where 42 infections were connected as the result of a single individual who went to work while ill and infected co-workers and patients, said Health Director Bruce Anderson. The second-largest cluster, at three separate McDonald’s restaurants on the Big Island, has grown to 30 positive cases from 14 on Friday, also due to an infected employee who continued working and “undoubtedly was transmitting the disease to other co-workers.”
“Working while ill can have devastating effects on co-workers, clients and the entire community,” Anderson said. “It’s critically important that people who are sick stay home.”
From March 7 through Saturday, Hawaii had the lowest number of cases per 100,000 of any state in the country, he said. But before reopening, the state must make sure it has health care capacity in case of a surge in infections, adequate personal protective equipment and the ability to maintain social distancing requirements.
“Although our numbers are excellent — we have the fewest cases of disease and the fewest deaths in the country over at least a one-week period … we do need to make sure that that’s sustained over time,” he said. “We had just a couple of clusters last week where case numbers tripled over just a few days. We need to make sure that we have the situation under control for a sustained period of time before we start relaxing controls.”
Ige continued to remind the public that despite a promising turn in COVID-19 numbers, the state faces a long-term challenge even while considering relaxing restrictions. If there’s a spike in cases in the future, Hawaii will have to reenact regulations, he said.
“We will have to live with COVID-19 in our community for a long time,” he said. “Certainly, I understand the frustration of some in our community. We’ve seen the decline in business activity and the impact it’s had with Hawaii going from one of the states with the lowest unemployment to the state with the highest unemployment rate, really, in a span of about four to six weeks. I truly understand the pain and the challenge that is throughout our community. We are working very hard to deal with this COVID-19 pandemic and, most importantly, recognize that we want to, when the conditions are right, be able to restore some normalcy back in our community.”