Two clusters of people who became ill with COVID-19 in Hawaii involved parties where people apparently ignored warnings to engage in social distancing and avoid social gatherings, according to Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, the incident commander for the state’s coronavirus response.
In testimony today before the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness, Hara described for the committee two primary mistakes that people have made that have led to the spread of infection.
“If you look at the main clusters that we’ve had in Hawaii, the big ones that people didn’t follow is staying home when you’re sick, and number two is, they were having parties,” he told the committee.
“Two of the clusters were related to large parties that spread. One person, if you look like two or three levels down, infecting almost 60 people. If they were following the guidelines that we put forth, we wouldn’t have this issue,” Hara said.
Hara’s comment underscores some new potential risks as Hawaii enters what is traditionally graduation party season. An estimated 15,000 students are completing high school this spring, and this is a time of large, festive gatherings.
Hara did not specifically identify the clusters involved, and declined through a spokesman to elaborate on his remarks after the hearing. But Lt. Gov. Josh Green said today he was aware that a party was a factor in a cluster of infections in Kailua-Kona that triggered the temporary closure of three McDonald’s restaurants.
That cluster included 18 employees and 12 household members.
“Clusters that occur from parties could jeopardize opening up the economy like we need to. I hope people take that to heart for the good of all,” Green said in a statement sent via text message.
State Health Director Bruce Anderson said on April 22 that the Kona infections involved six or seven employees at a restaurant who tested positive, and then grew to include members of those employees’ families. The families involved were in crowded living quarters, and were unable to effectively isolate themselves, he said.
Anderson made no mention of any party or social gathering, but told members of the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 that authorities are cautious about what they say about people who are infected.
The concern is that people will be reluctant to reveal information about who they spent time with if the people involved in a cluster are unfairly “blamed” for carrying the virus, he said.