Hawaii recorded 109 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, marking the highest daily count since the pandemic emerged in the islands in February.
It was the first time the number of new cases has reached triple digits, prompting government leaders to consider tighter restrictions on activities that might lead to the spread of the deadly virus.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell wants to close Oahu bars for three weeks — a measure supported by the governor — require masks be worn indoors and outdoors and limit social gatherings to 10 people or fewer.
“This is an ugly milestone nobody wanted to see in Hawaii,” said Dr. James Ireland, a community physician. “At this point we really can’t blame it on tourists and the majority of the businesses, which have made changes to protect us. This comes down to individual responsibility.”
Gov. David Ige said the jump in numbers was anticipated because the state laboratory was not testing during Hurricane Douglas but added he is concerned about the high numbers.
The spike in daily cases began last week with 55 new infections on Thursday, 60 on Friday, 73 on Saturday and 64 on Sunday.
What’s more, the percent of tests coming back positive has increased. Wednesday’s positive results represent 6.6% of the total 1,653 tests administered, significantly higher than the overall positive rate of about 1.5%.
“Today’s dramatic increase in cases is a serious concern; we’ve seen this trend since the Fourth of July weekend,” Health Director Bruce Anderson said at a COVID-19 briefing at the state Capitol. More and more cases are associated with large gatherings, socializing in large and small groups, engaging in risky activities and generally letting our guards down.”
The state is seeing increased social activities on beaches and in parks, at homes and in workplaces, he said. Health officials have identified multiple household clusters due to house parties, birthday celebrations, Father’s Day and the Fourth of July, religious functions and “co-workers sitting in prolonged meetings while removing masks to eat or drink,” as well as shopping, funeral events, meeting for drinks and socializing at bars.
The daily count includes 98 on Oahu, nine on Maui and two on Kauai. The number of positive cases statewide is now at 1,865. One Oahu case was removed from the state’s counts as a result of updated information.
The new cases include an “isolated employee” at First Hawaiian Bank’s University branch at 2411 S. King St. who tested positive last week, prompting the temporary closure of the branch on Thursday for deep cleaning; a dining services employee at the Arcadia nursing home; and a Honolulu firefighter from the Hawaii Kai Fire Station. Two employees on the Azure Ala Moana job site also contracted the virus, one at a family party, the other from an infected friend, the company said.
Asian media reported that eight out of 150 Thai army soldiers tested positive after returning to Thailand after participating in a large Schofield Barracks field training exercise that included about 5,500 U.S. soldiers on Oahu from July 7 to 21.
Nationally, the coronavirus death toll hit 150,000 on Wednesday, the highest in the world, with infections totaling nearly 4.4 million, according to Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. surge is fueled largely by young adults who are hitting bars, restaurants and gyms, the Associated Press reported.
“We have also recently seen an increase in cases associated with bars, gyms and other establishments where physical distancing and masking is not regularly practiced. We are recommending that strategic actions be taken to further restrict activities associated with these cases,” Anderson said. “Venues where multiple clusters have been identified, such as in bars and gyms, will obviously be targeted.”
Dozens of COVID-19 patients have been hospitalized following numerous coronavirus outbreaks, including one in Kalihi among Pacific islanders living in large multigenerational households.
“The 109 cases is a serious sign that COVID-19 is about to get away from us, so we need to take action immediately,” Lt. Gov. Josh Green told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, adding that he is recommending Ige immediately reduce the maximum size of gatherings to 10 and redouble efforts to require mask wearing for anyone outside their immediate family. “That’s the first rational decision that’s got to be made. We need people to not be in any gathering of more than 10 period — no exceptions.”
At this point, schools will “certainly have to delay their opening out of respect to parents and teachers,” Green added, until the Health Department has a “comprehensive health plan to keep them safe,” he added. “Until we see a comprehensive DOH plan, it’s difficult to justify opening the schools.”
He is urging the department to hire 500 full-time contact tracers to identify and isolate any new cases of COVID-19 before the situation gets out of control.
“Only with that kind of an army of contact tracers will they be able to contain this surge,” he said. “It is dire because though the cases have been increasing … soon it’s going to exceed the capacity for DOH to trace and test and then it will be out of control and we will simply be reacting to it in the hospital setting.”
Hospitals still have enough capacity, but “it’s going to get worrisome,” according to Green.
The state has had 965 cases over the past 30 days, compared with 900 in first 150 days, with about 10% of people needing to be hospitalized, he said.
The statewide coronavirus case total includes 1,516 on Oahu, 163 in Maui County, 116 on Hawaii island and 47 in Kauai County. The total also includes 23 Hawaii residents diagnosed outside of the state.
Hawaii’s coronavirus death counts remains at 26 — 19 on Oahu, six on Maui and one Kauai resident who died outside of the state. There are 624 active infections in Hawaii and a total of 1,215 patients now considered recovered — 65% of those infected. Of all the confirmed Hawaii cases since the start of the outbreak, 173 have required hospitalizations, including two Hawaii residents who were treated outside the state. A total of 119,212 coronavirus tests have been conducted so far by state and clinical laboratories.
The recent spike in coronavirus cases has prompted officials to consider reinstating the 14-day interisland travel quarantine, which was lifted June 16.