On the same day Hawaii experienced its first death from COVID-19 in nearly eight weeks, the state released the results of an “alarming” survey that suggests people here may be letting their guard down regarding the virus.
An elderly Honolulu man became the 18th death in Hawaii caused by the new coronavirus, the first fatality since May 3, the state announced Friday.
Gov. David Ige expressed his condolences to the man’s family and friends.
“This is the worst way to emphasize the need for all of us to continue safe practices such as physical distancing, wearing of masks and hand washing,” Ige said in a statement. “We must protect our kupuna and others who are at high risk, by practicing personal responsibility, especially around others outside our own immediate family or household.”
No other information was released about the man or the circumstances surrounding his death.
Despite the latest fatality, no state in the union has fewer coronavirus infections and deaths per capita than Hawaii.
Even so, state Health Director Bruce Anderson said a recent uptick in cases and the new statewide survey has him worried people are becoming lax in their practices and attitudes about the infection.
“This is a very serious disease,” Anderson said in an interview. “I’m not sure people in Hawaii appreciate how serious it is.”
The results of the survey — a followup to a poll commissioned by the state Department of Health in April — indicate a growing number of Hawaii residents no longer view COVID-19 as the serious threat they did in the early stages of the pandemic.
The number of people who see the virus as a “very serious” health concern dropped from 73% to 54% in less than two months, according to the latest survey.
And while those who say they are social distancing “all of the time” remained just about the same at 42%, the new survey suggests fewer people overall are following current recommendations to help stop the spread of the disease.
“It’s alarming that people are less concerned about the seriousness of the virus considering what’s happening on the mainland right now,” Anderson said.
States such as Arizona, Florida, Texas and California are experiencing record numbers of coronavirus cases following the reopening of their economies.
Hawaii is also in the process of opening its economy, and the state has seen a recent uptick in cases over the past few weeks, including 17 reported on Friday and 16 on Thursday. Friday’s new cases included 14 on Oahu, one on Kauai and two Hawaii residents who were diagnosed out of state.
“It’s critically important for everyone to take COVID- 19 seriously,” Anderson said. “We cannot interpret the reopening of businesses, restaurants, parks and other places as a license to let our guards down. This is the time when we should be more vigilant than ever in adhering to prevention measures we know work.”
Those measures, he said, include washing hands, wearing masks, staying 6 feet away from others and staying home when sick.
Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said there were some notable differences between the first and second surveys, including:
>> A 19 percentage point decline among those who are staying away from friends and family members who aren’t a part of the household (from 72% to 53%)
>> A 14 percentage point decline among those avoiding large groups and gatherings (from 85% to 71%)
>> An 11 percentage point drop in the number who are staying 6 feet away from other people (from 74% to 63%)
>> An 11 percentage point decline in the number who are staying home as much as possible (from 62% to 51%)
>> A 9 percentage point drop among those avoiding handshakes and hugs (from 88% to 79%).
Across the country health officials are reporting that people in their 20s and 30s are becoming increasingly reckless and contracting the virus in growing numbers.
While the latest survey didn’t point the finger at younger adults in Hawaii, it did indicate they were more likely to be more concerned about their jobs and careers.
“It’s really important that people comply (with health measures) in order to continue building the economy,” Okubo said. “If we get an outbreak like the other states, it’s not going to do anyone any good.”
The department commissioned Anthology Research to conduct the survey of Hawaii residents using both phone interviews and online surveys. Respondents were screened to ensure they were full-time Hawaii residents and at least 18 years old. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.20 percentage points with a 95% confidence level.
The initial survey was conducted from April 17 to April 23, and the follow-up survey was conducted from May 28 to June 7.