With the flattest COVID-19 curve in the nation, Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Wednesday that Hawaii should have reopened interisland travel and limited business activity “10 days ago.”
“We should have opened 10 days ago. That was a mistake,” said Green, a Hawaii island emergency room physician. “From a medical standpoint, we would have been totally fine 10 days ago.”
On Wednesday, Gov. David Ige approved Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s request to reopen outdoor attractions today — with restrictions — including pools, camp grounds, people’s open markets, Sea Life Park, water parks, and shooting and archery ranges. Ige also approved Caldwell’s request to reopen “personal service providers” on Friday, including barbers, hair dressers, nail salons and tattoo businesses.
Ige’s approval also allows limited reopening of commercial businesses, including restaurants on June 5, along with gatherings of 10 or fewer people who are not from the same household.
Ige also approved similar requests from neighbor island mayors.
Green monitors coronavirus numbers across the country and said, “I’m extremely pleased. The curve is the flattest in America, definitely. We’re ready. We’re ready to open the state for interisland. It is safe to travel interisland.”
Hawaii has seen 12 new cases in the last 17 days.
“You can’t get lower than that,” Green said in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “That means we’re not having spread in the state.”
Only one new case was reported Wednesday. The new case was on the Big Island. That came after three consecutive days of no new cases across all islands. Kauai, which quickly implemented Hawaii’s harshest coronavirus crackdown, has not had a COVID-19 case since April 11.
In all, Hawaii has had 644 COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday, including 17 deaths, since Feb. 28. All but 44 of the patients have been released from isolation.
The Garden Isle’s original 21 cases were reduced to 20 by the state Health Department after one case was categorized as “inconclusive,” Mayor Derek Kawakami announced on Tuesday and repeated Wednesday during his video update.
As travel and activities increase on Kauai, Kawakami warned: “We expect new cases to appear.”
Even with some people failing to practice social distancing and “even some rogue parties, we haven’t seen a surge,” Green said. “There still are a few people in full violation. But we are ready.”
When Hawaii tourism begins to heat up, Green worries about the arrival of thousands of tourists per day from the mainland and from Asia.
“That’s when we need to be on our game,” he said.
On Wednesday, the Hawaii Tourism Authority announced that 869 people arrived in Hawaii on Tuesday — compared with nearly 30,000 arrivals every day at the same time last year.
The biggest number — 322 — who landed on Tuesday are returning residents, followed by 235 visitors.
Green is helping to coordinate the statewide distribution of 752,000 “triple-ply surgical masks” that were generated by Uber founder Ryan Graves, who has a home on Kauai.
The masks are intended for first responders, hospitals and clinics, Green said.
Also on Wednesday, the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations told the Star-Advertiser that an investigation is underway to determine if fraudulent unemployment claims are being filed with the state using stolen identities.
DLIR spokesman Bill Kunstman said the U.S. Secret Service notified the department of the possibility in a memo on May 14.
The Associated Press previously reported that a West African fraud ring was suspected of using identities stolen in data breaches to file fraudulent unemployment claims in nine states, including Hawaii. AP reported hundreds of millions of dollars may have been paid out in fake claims.
The AP quoted a working Seattle woman who said she only realized her stolen identity had been used to file a fraudulent unemployment claim when Washington’s unemployment office contacted her surprised employer.
Kunstman declined to say if any stolen identities have been identified as the source of bogus unemployment claims in Hawaii.
But he said that Hawaii’s Department of Labor and Industrial relations has a special unit that already investigates unemployment fraud.
“There are also built-in safeguards at the front end through our portal,” he said. “It’s a normal function of unemployment insurance.”