With the recent spike in coronavirus cases and challenges with testing, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Gov. David Ige and the four mayors will continue to meet this afternoon to consider pushing back an earlier decision to lift the mandatory 14-day self-quarantine order on Aug. 1.
Today’s meeting follows a marathon meeting Wednesday between Ige, the mayors, state health officials and others on a final determination on lifting the 14-day self-quarantine restriction that has largely kept tourists from visiting the islands.
“We’re re-evaluating the Aug. 1 deadline,” Caldwell said at a press conference. “We did not make a decision yesterday. We agreed to think about it over the evening and agreed to come back today to talk about it.”
Caldwell said it’s an agonizingly painful balancing act of public health and safety and economic viability and survival, and he is unsure of the best course.
“How do we address getting people to work with keeping our residents safe? It’s not one or the other, it’s finding that balance,” the mayor said, noting that the spike in positive COVID-19 tests both here and on the U.S. mainland is making the decision more difficult. Roughly 40% of all Hawaii visitors come from California where there’s been a recent surge of cases, he said.
Also complicating the situation is the news Wednesday that Diagnostic Laboratory Services, one of two major providers of testing in Hawaii, is having its supply of testing materials being curtailed severely, Caldwell said. That could mean the maximum tests available daily in the state could drop by nearly half to about 2,300 from 5,000, he said.
“We’re really struggling to try to figure out what we need to do next to thaw out our economy,” Caldwell said during a press conference this morning at a construction site. “We recognize without the return of visitors, we’re going to be hobbling along. Our construction workers will be okay, but so many others who depend on the tourists’ dollar are not going to be okay.”
Caldwell said the governor and mayors recognize that a decision will need to be made shortly but that he doesn’t know if it will be made today.
“We need to give a date and we need to make it a firm date as much as possible,” Caldwell said.
The mayor said he, himself, is unsure about the Sept. 1 date. “That’s a difficult question to answer,” he said. “I could see the date staying Aug. 1 if we were more rigorous in how visitors came in — that maybe you only allow people in who have a negative test. They can’t come otherwise; no quarantine condition because we know it’s hard to enforce quarantine … and the burden placed on the Honolulu Police Department is tremendous already and we see a spike in crime that they need to address first.”
He added: “With the conditions that are now in place, I don’t think it’s safe enough for everyone — for residents here, those who work in the visitor industry or the visitors who come here, there’s great risk given the fact that a majority come from a market where we have a huge surge and given our testing capacity problems and the fact that we are having difficulty perhaps doing effective contact tracing.”
Ige issued a statement this afternoon, saying, “The mayors and I met yesterday and are meeting again today to assess the current situation and discuss what it might mean for the state, including the planned pre-travel testing program. We are getting input from community leaders as we carefully consider the health and safety of our residents and the financial health of our communities because we know they are interconnected.”
Hawaii counted 36 new coronavirus cases today, bringing the statewide total number of infections to 1,130 since the start of the outbreak in February. On Wednesday, the Department of Health reported 23 new cases.
Caldwell said he supports the Department of Health’s decision, announced this morning, to begin shutting down restaurants and bars that do not adhere to social distancing and other preventative measures.
The mayor said his staff will be meeting with Honolulu Liquor Commission officials on how to address complaints about violations in bars.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell today discussed three upcoming food distribution events this month in the rural parts of Oahu and on the North Shore.
A hui of 14 contractors, developers and the Great Aloha Run donated a total of $260,000 in two days to create three food distribution sites on Oahu this month to try to keep up with the ongoing demand for food amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve seen the huge, huge need that has come about because of the shutdown of the economy,” Caldwell said.
Watch the livestream video above.
Editor’s Note: This story is developing and will be updated as soon as more information becomes available.