With the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations climbing dramatically, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell on Tuesday warned that he might have to take further action to close down certain activities and businesses to keep the situation from getting worse.
“We’re ready to take more action, drastic action if necessary, to protect the health and safety of the people of this island,” Caldwell said.
State health officials on Tuesday reported 144 new cases reported across the islands, 139 of them on Oahu. The Oahu total is the most recorded in a single day. There have been other days with higher numbers reported, but officials attributed those greater totals to a backlog in testing data.
The state also reported one new coronavirus-related death, bringing the Oahu total to 27.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green provided other sobering statistics. Officials counted 1,814 new tests in Tuesday’s tally, with the 144 new cases representing nearly 8% of the total tested. That’s a significantly higher percentage than what the state has been seeing. Of the 132,526 coronavirus tests conducted so far by state and clinical laboratories in Hawaii as of Tuesday, only about 2% have been positive.
Green also reported that there were 138 current confirmed or suspected COVID-19 hospitalizations Tuesday, also significantly higher than the 75 in the previous few days. Both Green and health care officials said they worry that the state’s hospital bed capacity may be overrun if the current spike continues.
On Monday, the city announced an updated order that includes the outdoor and indoor prohibition of social gatherings with more than 10 people, excluding churches and other houses of worship. Last week, the city received approval from the state to shut down all bars for three weeks and prohibit restaurants from serving alcohol after 10 p.m.
Caldwell said he’s disturbed by photos of large gatherings without any social distancing in recent days.
Of the 144 cases, 71 were linked to a series of funeral events, six were tied to a hot yoga class and 12 were associated with a single birthday party, the Health Department said.
“I don’t know what more to do to get people to understand how critically important it is that we take action,” he said.
Short of shutting all businesses down again, something he doesn’t want to do, Caldwell said he’s looking at prohibiting the issuance of permits for tents at parks or closing all city parks again altogether.
Since nearly all nonessential activities were shut down during the early part of the pandemic, various businesses and activities have gradually opened.
“We started to open up and people started to let their guard down, thinking that somehow it wouldn’t affect them, and now we see the results,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell said there appears to be an uptick in bars attempting to circumvent restrictions. He met with Honolulu Police Department officials Monday to see what else can be done, he said.
A second firefighter at the Moanalua Fire Station — and the eighth overall within the Honolulu Fire Department — has tested positive for COVID-19, the department said Tuesday. HFD said the firefighter has been placed on leave.
Approximately 10 other personnel from the station, according to HFD spokesman Capt. Jeffrey Roache, are in self-quarantine. Those personnel have not tested positive but may have been in close contact with the COVID-19-positive firefighter, he said. The bulk of HFD’s cases are from the Hawaii Kai Fire Station, where five firefighters have tested positive for COVID-19.
Dr. Jill Omori, the city’s infectious disease officer, said she’s deeply concerned by the increasing number of people disregarding the recommended safeguards.
“Our first-responders are out there … every single day helping to keep you safe — our firefighters, our EMS workers, our police, and they are putting themselves in harm’s way for you and they can’t decide to stay away from COVID-positive patients and they don’t know who’s COVID-positive and (who’s) not,” Omori said. If the public continues to disregard the precautions, “pretty soon we’re not going to have any first-responders left to take care of us.”
Green, in response to questions, echoed city officials’ concerns when explaining why a greater percentage of people being tested are testing positive.
“Some of our people have become more lax in practicing preventative measures like wearing masks and physical distancing whenever they’re in public, which includes socializing with people outside their households at private gatherings,” Green said. “I imagine that behavior is a result of pandemic fatigue and basic human nature. As humans we can only go so long without social interactions.”
Green reiterated his call for the state to be able to conduct 10,000 tests per day and said he’s working with various stakeholders to increase testing capacity despite a shortage in testing supplies. “Bottom line, every person with COVID-19 symptoms and their close contacts should be tested and traced,” he said.
Regarding the spike in hospitalizations, Green said he’s worried too.
“Hawaii has seen what happens in other states when outbreaks go uncontrolled and overwhelm hospitals,” he said. “It’s a dire situation to be in and one we are fully capable of avoiding if we work together to slow the spread of COVID-19.”
The Health Department said Hawaii’s 27th coronavirus-related casualty was a Honolulu man between 40 and 59 years old who had underlying medical conditions.
Officials said the Honolulu Medical Examiner reported the death of the man, who had tested positive for COVID-19, to the Health Department. The man died July 29. An investigation into his cause of death continues, they said.
Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said Director Bruce Anderson has been pressing for the public to take precautions because of the concern that hospital bed use may grow beyond capacity.
“That’s been one of the goals from the start in keeping the case numbers down has been to protect our health care resources and not let our hospitals become overrun,” Okubo said.
Twenty of Hawaii’s coronavirus-related death have been on Oahu, six on Maui, and one Kauai resident who died outside the state.
Hawaii public schools are now slated to start their academic year on Aug. 17. Students were originally scheduled to return Tuesday but the Board of Education voted 7-1 to postpone the opening by two weeks in response to a flood of testimony from teachers, principals and staff.
>> CORRECTION: Churches and other houses of worship are excluded from the prohibition of social gatherings with more than 10 people, provided they follow physical distancing rules. An earlier version of this story and the Wednesday print edition story said they were included in the prohibition.