Hawaii hit another triple-digit coronavirus record Thursday with 124 new cases mostly on Oahu, prompting Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell to shut down bars for the next three weeks.
Several bars have been cited for violating social distancing and mask-wearing rules. Two Honolulu bars were found to be associated with as many as 12 cases of COVID-19. Caldwell said it is difficult to identify who is spreading the disease in bars and that with the recent surge in cases, it makes sense to close them temporarily.
Bar owners said they are being made a scapegoat for a spike in cases from many sources.
The new cases Thursday included 32 children.
”This is not about bars. This is about keeping people safe while we see a spiking of cases,” Caldwell said at a news conference.
Thomas Ray, a partner at Square Barrels and Heiho House, which is opening in Kaimuki in August, said bar owners are being unfairly punished because most are following COVID-19 safety rules. The three-week shutdown will be detrimental to the industry, he said.
“This just doesn’t affect bars; this affects the entire service industry. We have razor-thin margins (at about 3% to 7%),” he said. “We’re not going to do anything to put the community at risk. It’s a travesty that these workers, after tomorrow, they can’t go to work. We have to find solutions, not scapegoats — it’s absolutely intolerable. It’s so shortsighted, and the governor and mayor are playing off fear. It’s costing owners not only their business, but it’s costing regular … good-hearted, working-class people their jobs and ability to provide for their families or even to provide for themselves, and there’s no safety net.”
Caldwell said he would reassess the bar situation after three weeks. The order also applies to restaurants, which are prohibited from selling and serving alcohol after 10 p.m. Businesses found to be in violation after 10 p.m. can be shut down by the Liquor Commission for 24 hours. Bars violating the order are subject to penalties and fines and will be at risk of losing their liquor licenses.
“Every day for the past almost a week now, we have an increasing number of cases. This is a milestone of milestones and not a proud accomplishment,” Caldwell said. “We don’t want to reverse our reopening that we’ve worked so hard on. We don’t want to get to where we’re reporting the number of deaths day by day.”
“The disease is surging,” Lt. Gov. Josh Green told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “At this point there are only two ways to stop this pandemic in Hawaii: comprehensively trace and test for the disease while limiting our social gatherings to a max of 10 people, or … shut down again completely for two to four weeks and reboot after that. If we don’t act immediately, we are going to get crushed.”
“Remember, 10% of all confirmed cases end up hospitalized two to three weeks later, so I anticipate there will be terrible suffering if we don’t knock the virus back now,” Green said.
The mayor said the temporary closure of bars would help to ensure the Department of Health has the ability to effectively contact-trace.
“At this point we don’t know who has the virus and who doesn’t have the virus, but we know it’s traveling throughout our community. We see cases popping up everywhere at all types of businesses,” he said. “We’re all at risk at this point in time, and strong, decisive action needs to be taken so that we can get back to a healthy community, so we can have a healthy economy.”
On Monday health authorities said they were searching for people who may have been exposed to the new coronavirus this month at two Honolulu bars: Brix & Bones at 1217 Hopaka St. and Arena 808 at 1020 Keeaumoku St. The DOH said it had found five cases of COVID-19 associated with these establishments, and as many as seven other positive cases potentially linked with the clusters.
Health officials reported 121 new cases on Oahu, but one of those case previously had been reported as a Hawaii island case; it was reassigned to Oahu as a result of updated information. Maui had four new cases.
The statewide coronavirus case total includes 1,637 on Oahu, 167 in Maui County, 115 on Hawaii island and 47 in Kauai County. Officials counted 23 Hawaii residents diagnosed outside the state.
There are 737 active infections in Hawaii and 1,226 patients now considered recovered, or 62% of those infected.
Caldwell said about 25% of all COVID-19 cases are in the Micronesian community. Pacific islanders represent just 4% of the state’s population, according to data from the state Department of Health. Whites comprise 20% of cases and make up 25% of the population, followed by Filipinos, who consist of 19% of cases and represent 16% of the population, according to the DOH.
The state’s coronavirus death toll remains at 26: 19 on Oahu, six on Maui and one Kauai resident who died out of state. Meanwhile, the nationwide COVID-19 death count has topped 150,000.
Of all the confirmed Hawaii cases since the start of the outbreak, 177 have required hospitalization, including two Hawaii residents who were treated outside the state. Of the 121,368 coronavirus tests conducted so far by state and clinical laboratories, about 1.6% have been positive.