Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim urged residents Wednesday afternoon to keep practicing physical distancing and to wear their masks in light of the recent surge in new coronavirus cases announced earlier in the day.
The state Health Department reported Wednesday there were 109 new cases of COVID-19 — the highest daily count since the pandemic reached the Hawaiian islands in February, bringing the statewide total to 1,863.
A spike had been anticipated, the department said, given that a total of 5,160 tests were processed between Saturday and Wednesday due to lab closures on Sunday and Monday due to Hurricane Douglas.
The daily tally includes 98 on Oahu, nine on Maui, two on Kauai — and none on Hawaii island.
“The island of Hawaii was very fortunate that we have zero, but we all know how easily that can be changed,” Kim said during a news conference via Facebook live. “We all know that we really have to be on top of things to make sure we keep our numbers low.”
Kim said he had no plans at this time to reverse the opening of certain businesses or activities on Hawaii island.
“We will keep what we have now and hopefully we’ll get better and maybe open more later on if we keep getting better,” said Kim. “The whole basis is the cooperation of the people of Hawaii island. And I know how fortunate we are that our numbers are low, and our dream and goal is to keep it low and make it even lower. For right now there are no immediate plans to change any of the policies. Our goal is for the task force to work with the restaurants, individuals, organizations on how to get better following the directions so we can keep it low, and the goal is to keep on getting it lower.”
In addition, Kim said he had no plans of pushing for the return of the state’s mandatory, 14-day quarantine for interisland visitors, which was lifted on June 16.
“We are aware a big spread to Hawaii island is from people coming from the outside, whether it be trans-Pacific or interisland,” he said.
As for face mask mandates, Kim said, “I don’t think we can get any stricter than we are now.” “
In April, Kim, prompted by an outbreak among McDonald’s workers in Kona, mandated face masks or coverings for all customers of essential businesses age 5 or older, and all employees who have contact with others, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Last week, Kim signed COVID-19 emergency rule No. 10 clarifying the county’s face mask mandate, requiring nonmedical face coverings over the nose and mouth for all persons within the county while in public settings.
The only exemptions are for persons 5 or younger; persons with health or medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a face covering; persons actively communicating with someone who is hearing impaired; persons obtaining a service involving the nose or face.
Hawaii County also offers face covering exemptions for persons for whom wearing one would create a risk related to their work, as determined by local, state or federal regulators; for those engaged in exercise activity as long as physical distancing is maintained; and engaged in outdoor activities alone or with their household.
Businesses may refuse entry or service to a worker or customer who refuses to wear a face covering.
“When you go around the island of Hawaii, you see a lot of places that really enforce it by simple signs that say ‘no mask, no business,’ whether drive-in supermarket or other types of stores,” said Kim. “That’s a good policy. … Once in a while you have a consumer, they’re irate about that, and they should not be. This is for your protection as well as everybody else. Our job here is to see how we can make it better for people to be aware of it constantly, to be aware that the only thing that will make a difference between us getting good or bad is everyone do their share.”
The County’s COVID-19 Prevention and Education Task Force works with businesses, including restaurants and bars, to ensure compliance from employees and customers.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green said during an earlier news conference that Hawaii island has been fortunate, to date, to have no fatalities due to COVID-19.