Hawaii reported 17 new cases of the coronavirus on Saturday — all on Oahu — representing the largest number of new cases in a single day in nearly two months.
It was the second day in a row of new cases in the double digits, and the most since April 18, when the state reported 21 cases. The increase comes about a month after officials began lifting restrictions designed to keep coronavirus numbers low in the state, including the reopening of malls on Oahu on May 15.
State epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park said Saturday that officials expected to see a bump in cases as the community reopens.
“We always knew with the reopening of activities and businesses across the state we would see increases in coronavirus infections,” Park said in a statement. “Two of the cases reported (Saturday) did require hospitalization, but our statewide bed capacity remains strong. However, these new cases are reminders for all of us to maintain safe practices to prevent even higher case surges which could threaten our state’s healthcare capacity.”
The Health Department said two of the new cases are related to one household in Waipahu where 12 people have now tested positive. The department did not release further details about the other people who tested positive except that one was a minor.
Some 300 residents in surrounding households in Waipahu were tested as part of community outreach and screening by the department, and all came back negative, apart from those in the single household with positive cases, the Health Department said.
As of last week, 84 people infected by the virus have required hospitalization. Seventeen have died, but the state hasn’t seen a coronavirus-related death in more than 40 days. The total number of cases in Hawaii stands at 723.
“This is a reminder that the pandemic is not yet done,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green in a Facebook post about the daily tally. “It’s a concern. Please wear your masks this weekend. Socially distance. … Hopefully this surge will begin to fall back as we do our job and socially distance and wear our masks.”
In addition, the Health Department urged residents to continue keeping 6 feet of separation, frequently wash hands, and stay home if sick.
On Friday, state Health Director Bruce Anderson said of the 15 cases reported that day, 10 were from the same household of a previously confirmed case. The other cases were all associated with previous cases or investigations already underway, demonstrating that there still was not “widespread illness,” Anderson said.
NURSING HOME CASES
One of the recently counted cases was in connection with a nursing home. Anderson said a virus outbreak at a long-term facility is a concern because of the increased risk of the virus to senior citizens and many cases on the mainland can be attributed to such facilities.
On Saturday, Hale Nani Rehabilitation and Nursing Center reported that a positive result came back Friday for a staff member who developed symptoms of the disease at the end of a shift on Wednesday.
The nursing center, located at 1677 Pensacola St., said the employee hasn’t worked since Wednesday and has been self-isolating at home.
All residents in the unit where the staff member worked, as well as direct caregivers to those residents, were tested on Friday. All tests have so far come back negative, while five tests for staff members were still outstanding, the center said.
This is the second case at the facility. In March, another staff member tested positive for the virus and has since recovered and tested negative.
“Our top priority remains the safety of staff, residents, and visitors,” the facility said on its webpage, adding that staff are wearing personal protective equipment in accordance with federal guidelines. “This includes making sure all of our employees and staff throughout the facility understand how to protect themselves and the residents in their care.”
It was the fourth case of the virus at an Oahu long-term care facility in a week. A week earlier, the Health Department reported two employees at Kalakaua Gardens and one worker at Maunalani Nursing and Rehabilitation Center tested positive for the virus.
Meanwhile, Anderson said the state has been conducting outreach activities in low-income areas, such as in Kalihi, Palolo and Waipahu, to follow up on cases in those areas. He said while investigating cases state workers have found new cases and were working to isolate those people.
Hakim Ouansafi, executive director of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, said Saturday that the recent cases have not been in public housing. As of Saturday, there were eight positive cases involving only two families at Kalihi Valley Homes in May, out of the 40,000 people living in nearly 12,000 public housing units statewide.
“We are extremely concerned with the spike that we’ve seen,” Ouansafi said. “We instructed staff two days ago to take extra measures” with cleaning and enforcing physical distancing.
He said the housing staff has been aggressively enforcing social distancing measures, even threatening tenants with eviction if they do not comply with rules to prevent the spread of the virus.
Officials are concerned about an outbreak in public housing because many properties have hundreds of units, some with four or five bedrooms, and sometimes five to 10 people living inside. In addition, many tenants are close-knit and usually gather together in common areas, which has been banned during the coronavirus.
Last week, the housing authority, working with the Health Department, conducted coronavirus outreach at Mayor Wright Housing, visiting more than 360 units to share information and testing those with symptoms.
In March, the housing authority issued medical masks and sanitizer for all tenants and again issued masks at the Kalihi property when cases were reported there.
For the past two months, the housing authority has been serving 1,700 meals a day to the elderly and vulnerable to allow them to stay inside and reduce the chance of being exposed to the virus.
Ouansafi said the authority received a $7.9 million federal grant Friday, allowing the authority to provide three meals a day for 4,000 tenants who are senior citizens, disabled, or have underlying health conditions. The grant will cover the meals for one month and will begin in about a week.
“We want to make sure that our elderly and vulnerable stay home as much as possible,” Ouansafi said. “We’re also mindful that we’re dealing with the most financially challenged people even before COVID. Any relief will keep them healthy and consequently will keep the entire community healthy.”