Hawaii officials are still grappling over whether to proceed with reopening tourism on Aug. 1, as coronavirus infections continue to climb.
After a marathon meeting Wednesday, Gov. David Ige, the county mayors and health officials will reconvene today to make a final determination on lifting the 14-day self-quarantine restriction that has largely kept tourists from visiting the islands.
Ultimately if the governor decides not to proceed with a modified quarantine process that allows trans-Pacific passengers who test negative for COVID-19 prior to travel to bypass restrictions, the state will be dealing with how to continue paying for unemployment benefits for the 250,000 currently jobless residents and the workers who will join their ranks the longer it takes to revive the state’s primary economic driver.
“The decision about whether to extend the Aug. 1 date for an extended quarantine will affect thousands of lives and is not being taken lightly. There are a number of factors being discussed, including access to testing both in Hawaii and elsewhere,” Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said in a statement. “We will continue to work with the governor and the other mayors to find a path forward that puts the health and safety of our citizens first.”
Reversing the planned reopening next month also would mean there would still be no pretesting program for those entering the state. More than 2,600 people, including about 700 visitors, arrived in Hawaii on Tuesday — none of whom were required to be tested for COVID-19.
The Honolulu City Council passed a resolution Wednesday urging the governor to strengthen the proposed pretravel COVID-19 testing program and called for Ige to push back the reopening date “until the numbers of new cases on the mainland and in Hawaii have dropped significantly.”
The Council is also asking the governor to require a second diagnostic viral test for travelers before lifting the quarantine.
Nearly 45% of Hawaii’s air arrivals to the islands come from the U.S. West Coast, which is seeing thousands of new daily COVID-19 infections. California alone recorded 9,500 infections Tuesday, the most new cases reported in a single day since the pandemic began. Nationally, coronavirus infections have surpassed 3 million.
Hawaii counted 23 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, bringing the statewide total number of infections to 1,094 since the start of the outbreak in February. On Tuesday, the Department of Health reported 41 new cases — the state’s highest daily number of new confirmed cases. The DOH reported 264 active infections and classified 811 patients as “released from isolation” — about 74% of those infected.
The state’s coronavirus death toll was unchanged at 19.
However, the number of hospitalized coronavirus patients remains low. Of all the confirmed cases since the start of the outbreak, 122 have required hospitalization, including three new hospitalizations on Oahu. Of the 89,152 coronavirus tests conducted so far by state and clinical laboratories in Hawaii, 1.2% have been positive.
Supplies cut off
Meanwhile, one of Hawaii’s largest COVID-19 testing laboratories has been cut off from its mainland supplier of chemicals needed to continue to run tests locally due to the surge in coronavirus cases across the country.
Diagnostic Laboratory Services will no longer receive reagents and other supplies from Roche Diagnostics, one of the largest manufacturers of equipment and supplies for COVID-19 testing.
“As a result, DLS’s capacity for COVID testing has been reduced from 800 tests per day to 250 tests per day and will only be locally testing priority clinical testing in the immediate future on island,” said President Mark Wasielewski, adding the company would be able to increase capacity to 2,000 tests per day if it were able to obtain reagents.
“Nonpriority testing will be sent to mainland laboratories that may take up to 10 days to perform tests. We are fortifying our other COVID testing platforms and are looking into new platforms to bring in-house to boost our testing capabilities as quickly as possible.”
Wasielewski said he is “personally devastated that we cannot help with more testing as the demand and needs are rising in our state” as major labs on the mainland are “all in need of the same supplies.”
Dr. Scott Miscovich, who is leading broad testing efforts in the islands, told the Honolulu City Council that the state’s testing capacity has been cut in half to about 2,500 tests per day from 5,000. But DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo said in actuality, DLS was performing just 25% of the state’s 1,200 total daily tests.
The DOH State Laboratories Division will pick up tests DLS is no longer able to handle for those at risk for serious disease, including the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions, she said.
“Our emergency capacity has gone down and that is concerning, but we’re not at a critical stage as many states are,” Okubo said. “As this national shortage occurs because of surges of cases in many states, it will affect other states because the manufacturers of course will need to prioritize to fill their orders.”
The remaining labs, including Clinical Labs of Hawaii, are working together to address the state’s testing needs, especially the most critical, hospitalized patients, Miscovich said.
“We don’t want to scare the public. We still are able to address our testing needs currently in the state and plans are being made to increase our capacity,” he said. “Unfortunately, this may cause the return of the results to be multiple days instead of the 24-hour turnaround.”
UPDATE: On Thursday, Roche Diagnostics, the mainland supplier of Diagnostic Laboratory Services, said it had not cut off the supplies of chemicals needed for the Hawaii company to run coronavirus tests locally, but it has temporarily reduced the volume of test kits due to a surge in coronavirus cases across the country. Read the full story here.