Hawaii reported more than two dozen new cases of the coronavirus Friday — the highest daily increase since early April.
The spike in COVID-19 infections with 27 new confirmed cases is alarming, but not unexpected, state officials said.
“This is of great concern. It’s a reflection of the recent heartfelt protests and less social distancing because we’ve opened up our kamaaina economy, including restaurants,” Lt. Gov. Josh Green told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “But things will settle down. This is the time we need to remember everyone should be wearing masks. This surge makes it more clear than ever that when we open tourism from the mainland to Hawaii, we’re going to have to require a pretest before their travel. This is what’s happening all across the world and it will decrease our number of cases very significantly.”
The Health Department’s daily case count has not been this high since April 4, when 32 cases were reported. New confirmed cases have never topped 34 in a single day in Hawaii.
Friday’s reported cases include 25 on Oahu, one on Maui and one on Kauai — the Garden Isle’s first new case in over two months.
The count follows 18 confirmed cases Thursday. Officials said the anticipated spike will not delay the reopening of the local economy or interfere with planning to restart Hawaii tourism.
“It is still manageable, but it serves as a reminder that we must continue to be vigilant in the battle against COVID-19, especially because of the potential harm that the virus can cause to our most vulnerable populations,” Gov. David Ige said in a statement, adding the state is “well-prepared” to handle the surge in new cases.
“It’s critically important that we slow the spread of the disease by continuing the safe practices that have become the new norm. The reopening of our communities and our ability to remain open depend on how successful we are at preventing surges that could overwhelm our health care system.”
Hawaii’s latest COVID-19 cases brings the statewide tally to 789 since the start of the outbreak in February. The number of new cases so far in June already has more than tripled the total recorded in May.
Most of the new infections are associated with clusters in large families living in crowded conditions, care homes and long-term nursing facilities, and a church group that gathered in a home in Waipahu.
Five cases in Waianae are from two foster family homes on the same property; six in Wahiawa are associated with a single housing complex; three Oahu cases are in Honolulu and there was one each in Pearl City and Kailua.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park said there is no evidence recent protests contributed to the recent spike in infections, but she strongly encourages continued social distancing and the use of face masks.
“These clusters really emphasize our call for the continuation of safe practices, including physical distancing, using face coverings, frequent hand washing, and staying home and away from others when sick,” she said. “Virtually all of the newly reported cases of COVID-19 are due to community spread, often from a group setting.”
The Health Department’s contact tracers have identified more than 30 possible contacts associated with the faith-based Oahu home gathering, including a large family of more than a dozen household members who all tested positive. Six more cases may be associated, said Health Director Bruce Anderson.
“This is a serious reminder that we all need to avoid gathering where physically distancing is not occurring,” he said. “Moving forward our lifestyle choices will affect everyone in the state.”
Anderson added the DOH “fully anticipated an increase in COVID-19 cases” associated with more community activity and the reopening of businesses. Public health nurses and housing staff have gone door-to-door to “literally hundreds” of families, distributing masks and hand sanitizer and working with families with positive cases, he said.
“It’s challenging when a large family is living in a small home in very crowded conditions. In those situations, transmission of the disease is practically unavoidable,” Anderson said, adding that the state has set aside hotels and other places for people unable to isolate themselves. He would not disclose those locations.
With the lifting of the 14-day self-quarantine for interisland travel this week and the anticipated reopening of other air travel in the near future, this is a critical time for people to remain vigilant, he said.
State officials are still working out a plan to allow out-of-state visitors to bypass the quarantine, which has been extended through at least July 31.
“The decision to pause or to postpone the opening plan will depend largely on whether or not we can effectively manage the cases that we’re seeing,” Anderson said.
There are 130 active infections in Hawaii and a total of 642 patients now considered recovered since the start of the outbreak in February. The state’s coronavirus death toll remains unchanged at 17. Of the more than 66,734 coronavirus tests conducted so far by state and clinical laboratories, about 1.2% have been positive.
Hawaii could continue to see new cases over the next two weeks related to a growing outbreak reported Wednesday at the state’s largest nursing home, Hale Nani Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Makiki. At least a dozen cases have been confirmed as of Thursday.
Outbreaks are continuing to occur in different parts of the world and “Hawaii is going to have to protect itself,” with pre-travel testing, temperature and thermal screening and other preventive measures, Green said.
“We have to use all of the different devices at our disposal, but testing will decrease by more than 50% the number of COVID-19- positive travelers that could normally come, and that is a game-changer,” he said. “We also need to remember that residents who travel to the mainland will need to be screened upon their return to Hawaii.”