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Hawaii sees third consecutive record high of new coronavirus-related cases

The state Department of Health reported 73 new COVID-19 cases Saturday, the third consecutive day of record numbers for Hawaii.

Amid a frenzy of preparations as Hurricane Douglas barreled toward the state, officials spoke of the challenges they are facing setting up shelter space and putting other disaster measures in place while trying to comply with physical distancing and isolation requirements necessitated by the new coronavirus.

Both Gov. David Ige and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell made no changes in their emergency rules declarations on Saturday but acknowledged they are monitoring the situation. They will meet with the state’s other mayors Monday to discuss whether any new measures need to be put in place.

Caldwell said he’s looking at an earlier 10 p.m. alcohol curfew for bars and restaurants, which are currently required to stop serving booze at midnight, after a cluster of coronavirus cases among bartenders, bouncers, servers and patrons at an unidentified bar where a large crowd gathered recently to watch a UFC fight, with many fans not wearing masks.

Of the new cases, 68 are on Oahu and five are on Maui, bringing the statewide total number of infections since the start of the outbreak to 1,620. As a result of updated information, health officials removed two Oahu cases from the tally.

Saturday’s total eclipsed the record 60 cases reported Friday.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park said multiple coronavirus clusters have been associated with Fourth of July gatherings, birthday parties, religious functions, work meetings, sports events and funerals.

“Our investigations and contact tracing show in many of these settings people have relaxed their physical distancing and use of facial coverings,” she said in a news release.

The state Laboratories Division will not conduct COVID-19 testing today due to the storm, officials said. Testing is expected to resume late Monday or Tuesday.

All told, the coronavirus case totals include 1,291 on Oahu, 146 in Maui County, 117 on Hawaii island and 43 in Kauai County, according to health officials. The total also includes 23 Hawaii residents who were diagnosed while outside the state.

Health officials have reported 26 coronavirus-­related deaths since the start of the outbreak.

As of Saturday, 427 infections in Hawaii are active cases, with a total of 1,167 patients now classified by health officials as “released from isolation,” or more than 72% of those infected. Of all the confirmed cases since the start of the outbreak, 161 have required hospitalization, with five new hospitalizations reported Saturday, health officials said.

State officials said there are 625 people statewide currently in isolation or quarantine as a result of exposure to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Officials said they expect the number of people in quarantine or isolation to increase as people huddle together to seek safety from the approaching hurricane.

The city is planning to open 13 hurricane shelters on Oahu starting 9 a.m. today, and Caldwell signed an emergency proclamation Friday to allow indoor gatherings to exceed 50 people in anticipation of potential evacuees.

Ige said he and the four mayors are meeting three times a week to discuss coronavirus-related policies and measures, with the next meeting set for Monday. He declined to say if there are concerns about rolling back the scheduled reopening of schools on Aug. 4 or the Sept. 1 start of a pre-travel testing program that would allow out-of-state visitors to bypass the state’s mandatory 14-day self-quarantine.

A total of 1,834 passengers arrived in Hawaii Friday on 26 flights, according to the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority. The arrivals included 438 visitors, 366 of whom disembarked on Oahu, 41 in Kona, 31 on Maui and none on Kauai.

“We do monitor the capacity in our health care system and we are still in a strong position,” Ige said. “The utilization of acute beds, of ICU beds and ventilators are well below the levels that we would say are of concern … we feel that the health care system is able to handle the number of cases we are seeing.”

As for the reopening of schools, Ige said he is in constant contact with schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, principals and teachers. “We continue to look at and evaluate the current situation,” Ige said. “We are committed to a safe reopening of schools.”

Caldwell said dealing with specific situations “where the problems exist,” such as rolling back alcohol-serving hours, may be a better way to move ahead instead of blanket prohibitions.

Ige said state Health Director Bruce Anderson is leading a committee tasked with coming up with a series of “triggers” for opening or closing certain activities based on the number of cases both here and out of state, as well as other factors. A draft is expected Monday.

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