Hawaii officials are urging residents to remain vigilant as the state marked its highest daily surge in new coronavirus cases since the start of the outbreak in the islands.
There were 41 new cases reported Tuesday, including 38 on Oahu, surpassing the previous high of 34 on two separate days in the first week of April. What’s more, a surge in infections is expected over the next next week or so following the Fourth of July holiday, when residents packed the beaches and gathered together to celebrate.
The spike comes as the state prepares to lift quarantine restrictions on trans-Pacific tourists who test negative for COVID-19 and to welcome back thousands of public school students in the beginning of August.
“This is a wake-up call for all of us that COVID-19 is still a serious threat in Hawaii,” said Health Director Bruce Anderson at a COVID-19 briefing at the state Capitol. “Before the governor imposed a 14-day quarantine, we were projecting hundreds of cases a day.”
After the state was successful in keeping the number of new cases low, people “let down their guard,” Anderson said. He urged residents to wear masks, stay 6 feet apart, wash hands frequently and stay home when sick.
Gov. David Ige said he is set to meet with the county mayors today to consider whether “it’s appropriate to roll back different actions,” such as the reopening of bars and gyms.
“We need to be relentless in this marathon fight against COVID-19,” Ige said, adding that officials will monitor conditions and respond appropriately using data as the state reopens the economy and tourism. “We can only be successful in this fight against COVID-19 if we work together as a community. All of us need to take personal responsibility in our interactions.”
In recent weeks restaurants, bars, gyms and sporting activities have resumed, leading to large crowds and gatherings.
The record daily increase brings the statewide total number of infections to 1,071.
“I have grave concerns that this could get away from us,” Lt. Gov. Josh Green told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “People need to not gather in groups greater than 10, and they need to wear a mask. Promoting large events like the Kalakaua street gathering is a terrible mistake. We are still in the middle of a pandemic.”
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s Kalakaua “Open Street” Sundays, which closes the avenue in Waikiki to vehicular traffic to reserve the space for walkers, joggers and bicyclists, started June 14 and runs through July. Green is expected to run against Caldwell in the 2022 governor’s race.
Caldwell also expressed his dismay at the high case count at his own news conference, and said he might suspend Saturday’s “Open Street” event on Hotel Street in Chinatown, as well as the Kalakaua “Open Street” events in Waikiki on Sundays. The city might also reevaluate the reopening of high-risk businesses, he said.
“We have to start to discuss the more risky businesses, like bars with singing and gyms,” he said. “I don’t want to have to make these decisions, but we will make them if we have to protect the health and safety of the people of this island.”
As of Tuesday, 255 infections in Hawaii are active cases, with 797 patients now classified by health officials as “released from isolation” — about 74% of those infected. The active cases include four city employees, including an employee who works out of a Halawa base yard clearing sewage wastewater drains, and his mother, who works for the city Department of Parks and Recreation. The first two city employees who came down with COVID-19 were a Waipahu Summer Fun manager, who tested positive Saturday, and a driver for TheBus, who was diagnosed in late June.
Dr. Scott Miscovich, who is heading broad testing efforts throughout the islands, warned that Hawaii is “proceeding into very dangerous territory.”
“First, the actual number has consistently risen to now the all-time high. Second, these positive cases are spread throughout the islands, primarily Oahu, and are no longer just isolated clusters of individuals,” he said. “This is broad community spread of unknown cause, and we are just finishing the three-day Fourth of July holiday weekend, as well as the resumption of summer fun and group sports practices, which means in the next seven to 14 days, the COVID-19 cases will only likely increase significantly.”
He added that those between the ages of 20 and 35 are seeing the most rapid increase in coronavirus cases.
“The government only can do so much. The people of America have to understand their responsibility and the importance of social distancing and wearing their masks and reducing their group indoor activities,” Miscovich said. “This is where this respiratory virus is spread. It’s up to the people now to start standing up and understanding that they will be the difference.”
Of all the confirmed Hawaii cases since the start of the outbreak, 119 have required hospitalizations, with no new hospitalizations on Oahu reported Tuesday, health officials said.
Of the 87,096 coronavirus tests conducted so far by state and clinical laboratories in Hawaii, 1.2% have been positive.
The state’s coronavirus death toll remains at 19, including 13 on Oahu.
Star-Advertiser reporters Dan Nakaso and Nina Wu contributed to this report.