Hawaii’s positive COVID-19 cases went back to triple digits Sunday, adding another data point to a surge that is bringing the state closer to another widespread lockdown and garnering national attention.
State Health Department officials reported only 45 new cases Sunday morning but said they were “not a complete and accurate picture due to the temporary delay in receiving complete data” from Clinical Labs of Hawaii, a private laboratory conducting most of the tests in the state.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Sunday evening that DOH had sorted out the accounting issue and that the “number does appear again to be in the triple digits.”
“The only way we are going to bring our numbers back down is either an immediate full-court press on all cases — tracing and testing on active cases and isolating them,” Green said, “or if the cases continue in the triple digits, the state of Hawaii will have no choice other than widespread shutdown — which will be extremely painful and nothing that I want to put people through.”
Green said the state is at a crossroads now, and “this week is the last week to get the numbers under control without having to take dramatic measures.”
“If we see another week of triple digits, the only sensible thing to do is to have a two- to four-week shutdown with only essential work occurring to keep ourselves alive,” he said. “It certainly makes the opening of schools problematic and any trans-Pacific travel problematic.”
Green said officials aren’t likely to make a decision about returning to a widespread shutdown until mid-August — to provide another 14 days or so to determine whether recent containment measures have made a difference.
Gov. David Ige already has proposed limiting social gatherings to 10 people or fewer — the exception would be controlled environments like public schools and the University of Hawaii, where safe practices are followed and monitored.
Ige also has talked about re-closing bars. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell on Friday closed Oahu bars for three weeks.
Ige also has proposed working with counties to reinstate restrictions on gatherings in parks, consistent with the 10-or-fewer- people rule.
The Washington Post reported Saturday that Hawaii was one of the top five states as of Friday, along with Alaska, Missouri, Montana and Oklahoma, with the highest percentage increases in a seven-day average of new cases.
Green said that through Sunday the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had measured Hawaii at 5.5 cases per 100,000 people, making it one of the lowest states for cases per 100,000 people. Still, he agreed that the recent local surge has been worrisome.
Green said Sunday that at least 75 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Hawaii, with 15 patients in ICUs and 10 on ventilators.
Of the 127,279 or so coronavirus tests conducted so far by state and clinical laboratories in Hawaii, about 1.7% have been positive. Officials counted about 638 new tests in Sunday’s tally, with the 45 new cases representing 7% of the total.
Two hospitalizations in the statewide count are Hawaii residents who were diagnosed and treated outside the state. Of the 197 hospitalizations within the state, 166 have been on Oahu, 26 on Maui, four on Hawaii island and one on Kauai.
By county, Honolulu has seen 1,003 patients released from isolation, and Maui has had 133 patients released. Kauai County has three active infections, while Hawaii County has none.
However, Green said the state could quickly get overwhelmed if the current surge in new daily case counts continues. He said the state needs to beef up contact tracing, while all Hawaii residents need to be vigilant about mask wearing, hand washing and social distancing.
As of Sunday more than 900 infections in Hawaii were known to be active cases, with at least 1,294 patients now classified by health officials as “released from isolation,” or 58% of those infected. Twenty-five new release cases — 21 on Oahu and four on Maui — were reported Sunday. The category counts those infected people who have met the criteria for being released from isolation.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park expressed dismay about reports of large beach gatherings, including one at Waimea Bay that involved the promotion of a rock jumping contest and generated a large crowd, with many people not wearing masks or practicing physical distancing.
“It’s disappointing and dangerous to people’s health, for anyone to continue to encourage and actively promote these big groups,” Park said in a statement. “Everyone should avoid large gatherings and crowded places and use proven, common-sense, and simple steps to protect our community from COVID-19.”
Park said Sunday that missing electronic laboratory reporting data, which was likely a result of recent modifications in data reporting required by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is affecting the state’s ability to “quickly identify and investigate new persons with COVID-19 and to contact-trace.”
Green said Hawaii has over 900 active cases that need to be traced, and “unfortunately, our request to get up to 400 tracers has not been delivered.”
“We need that team and recently have offered the DOH significant support from the National Guard, so that help will be coming,” he said. “But we’ve exhausted our current team, and we need a lot more help, so DOH is going to need to ramp up that program.”
Green said DOH had shared with the state Legislature that as of last week it had 77 contract tracers; “however, my understanding is very few of them are full time, and we need hundreds of full-time contractors to keep up with this volume of cases.”