State officials said Monday they’re aiming to step up enforcement of COVID-19 rules against social gathering — especially at the beaches — following what Gov. David Ige called a tough week of more than 500 cases, including a single-day record of 207 announced on Monday.
Ige also said he might delay the state’s plan to waive on Sept. 1 the 14-day quarantine for transpacific visitors who test negative for the coronavirus.
At a virtual press conference Monday afternoon, Ige urged Hawaii residents to redouble their efforts to fight the coronavirus.
“It’s clear that many across the state have relaxed their commitment to maintain the physical distancing and all of the best practices we’ve talked about in fighting against this COVID-19 infection,” the governor said.
Ige said he and the mayors have been tracking the recent surge in cases and will make a decision soon on whether to delay the opening of transpacific tourism. The plan was to allow visitors from the mainland to skip the current 14-day quarantine restriction if travelers obtain a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of travel.
He said his team is continuing to prepare for the Sept. 1 pre-arrival testing program, but the surge in cases, both here and in key markets on the mainland, is concerning.
“We continue to monitor the conditions here in the state, as well as around the country, and we will be making a further determination as we get closer to the Sept. 1 date,” he said. If there are too many cases, the start date will be delayed, Ige said, without defining what “too many” is.
The pre-arrival testing program represents the long-awaited effort to relaunch the crippled tourism industry.
The hotel industry has indicated they want at least three or four weeks’ notice if there is a change in the launch date, while the airlines have said they want at least a two-week notice.
“Clearly we would want to see a stopping of increase in number (of) cases here in the state and hopefully begin a trend downward,” the governor said.
To help get there, Ige said he and the mayors are discussing the implementation of “strategic” enforcement of the rules against social gathering.
For example, he said, if certain bars are promoting illegal large gatherings, only the violating business would be targeted rather than shutting down the entire industry.
Ige said the numbers this week are key.
“If (the case numbers) continue to increase during this whole week, then I’m certain that the mayors and I would be looking at further action,” Ige said during a Honolulu Star-Advertiser Spotlight Hawaii discussion via Facebook Live.
“We all know that a complete shutdown is not something that we would want to do, because of the impact on our businesses. But if the numbers continue to increase, then we may have to do that,” he said.
On Monday, Oahu joined Kauai and Maui in limiting indoor and outdoor social gatherings to no more than 10 people.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s order specifically calls out funerals and other death-related events, limiting them to 10 people similar to all other gatherings.
And, according to the order, those gathering in groups of 10 or fewer must wear face coverings and stay 6 feet apart from anyone from different households.
During Monday’s news conference, Health Director Bruce Anderson said he will push for more enforcement to prevent large social gatherings at the beaches, many of which were reported to be quite busy this weekend.
Anderson said there were reports of large gatherings across Oahu, and he personally visited several beaches and saw it for himself.
“I was amazed at the number of people without face coverings or not physically distancing,” he said. “People were acting as though there wasn’t a COVID outbreak pandemic that we’re dealing with.”
Anderson added: “While I’m a strong proponent of exercise and surfing and fishing and all those things we enjoy doing in the water, the fact is a lot of people are socializing at the beach, putting up tents, spending the day there with family, friends and others. In a COVID environment where we are, those gatherings are undoubtedly a central source (of virus spread).”
On Maui, Little Beach in Makena State Park was less crowded than normal, officials said, but that was likely due to social media postings suggesting law enforcement would be on the scene to break up the popular drum circles there.
Health investigations traced at least one case to a person who recently attended a Makena drum circle with an estimated 100 people on the beach. There were no masks in sight and little regard for physical distancing between groups, officials said.
“The scene here was repeated on beaches and in parks across the state,” DLNR said.
State officials also reported receiving complaints over the weekend about people, particularly in state parks, not following state and county emergency rules. This includes a number of complaints about people on small boats not abiding by the rules.
In addition, a rock-jumping contest at Waimea Bay drew a large crowd, with many reportedly 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,” state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah 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.”
Monday’s new coronavirus case count represents a dramatic increase for the state, but officials said 114 of the cases were the result of delayed reporting of cases from this weekend. An electronic reporting system was down for an extended period.
Of the 207 newly reported cases, 198 are from Oahu, seven on Maui, and two on Hawaii island.
Officials counted 3,433 new tests in today’s tally, with the 207 new cases representing 6% of the total tested.
The new daily total brings the statewide total to 2,448 since the start of the outbreak in Hawaii in late February, with one Oahu case removed from today’s totals due to updated data, officials said.
Despite the new record, Ige said the state still remains among the country’s leaders in per-capita case levels.