Hawaii’s coronavirus crisis continued to mount Monday as Honolulu’s City Hall was shut down, the University of Hawaii football season was postponed at least for the fall and three more people died from COVID-19.
State health officials announced 140 new cases Monday, the 12th straight day of triple-digit COVID-19 numbers, with all but two of the cases on Oahu and one each on Maui and Kauai.
The rising tide of COVID-19, particularly on Oahu, struck Honolulu city government hard Monday as Honolulu Hale was shut down for most business after at least 11 employees tested positive there, and even Mayor Kirk Caldwell was forced into quarantine after being tested himself.
More than 1,000 city employees were tested at Honolulu Hale on Monday, and officials announced that at least 47 employees already had contracted the virus islandwide.
At a news conference held just before he left Honolulu Hale to quarantine, Caldwell said he was worried Honolulu was going to become another coronavirus- swamped New York City at this rate.
“At the end of the day, it is about life and death,” he said, adding that, “If we keep working together, we can break this, we can beat this. We did it once, and we can do it again better.”
State Department of Health officials said they are investigating the deaths of an elderly female and two elderly men, including one man with underlying health conditions.
The state’s coronavirus- related death toll is now at 34.
The statewide coronavirus case total includes 3,249 on Oahu, 186 in Maui County, 131 on Hawaii island, and 49 in Kauai County, according to health officials. The total also accounts for 23 Hawaii residents diagnosed outside the state.
In other COVID-19 developments on Monday:
>> The University of Hawaii postponed its football season for the first time since 1961. The move followed a mandate by the Mountain West Conference, which postponed its fall-sports schedule. The Mountain West is keeping open the possibility of playing the football season during the spring.
>> The state added all Oahu forest trails to the list of off-limits recreational facilities, including state and county parks and beaches.
>> The Queen’s Medical Center re-instituted its no- visitor policy at both Punchbowl and Ewa hospitals starting today in response to the growing number of COVID-19 patients. The only exceptions are obstetrics and pediatrics, and end of life care.
>> Kualoa Ranch informed the city that it would be furloughing more than 200 employees because of reduced business tied to the pandemic.
>> State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations chief Scott Murakami resigned his post, Gov. David Ige said. Murakami had been on leave since June 1 because of stress caused by the added workload created by the virus.
>> The University of Hawaii, which already planned for mostly online instruction this fall, asked faculty and students to reduce in-person coursework as much as possible.
Last week Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard promised stepped-up enforcement of the latest Oahu emergency orders closing parks and beaches, and that’s what happened.
Over the weekend, officers, including members of the department’s new special COVID-19 enforcement team, issued some 1,350 citations, the department reported.
One man was arrested at Kailua Beach Park on Saturday afternoon for kicking an officer as he was being told about the park’s closure, police said.
On Sunday evening, officers cited a Pearlridge bar owner for operating illegally. The owner was ordered to close and surrender the bar’s liquor license.
Police also reported more than 300 phone calls in the first 24 hours of the city’s new COVID-19 hotline. During the same period, some 80 emails about possible violations were received.
Meanwhile, Hawaii’s hospitals are preparing for much larger numbers of coronavirus patients to prevent reaching capacity, which might occur as early as next month.
Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green said that while COVID-19 patients occupy about 5% of the state’s hospital beds, more concerning is they are taking up 54% of the intensive care unit beds.
There are now 132 COVID-positive patients, which is an increase from 105 over the weekend, Green said Monday.
“We aren’t at capacity yet, but it’s something that we have to watch every minute,” he said.
Based on the current rate of new COVID-19 cases, which are mainly on Oahu, Green said Hawaii’s hospitals are anticipating about 250 new hospitalizations in the coming weeks, with about 20% of those expected to require intensive care.
Hospitals already have started to expand their capacity to treat COVID-19 patients, he said, noting that they can expand about 30%.
Green said if the current trajectory of cases — an average of 125 per day —continues Hawaii might reach 3,000 active cases in August, which would probably mean about 350 new hospitalizations. At a 20% rate, that’s 70 or so patients bound for the ICU.
“If we have a bad month of August with cases we’ll begin to reach capacity in September. That’s my gut feeling, but there are a whole lot of variables between now and then,” said Green, an emergency room physician.
Improved contact tracing and testing capacity and more focus on social distancing, especially avoiding large gatherings, could make a difference, he said. Cases involving Pacific Islanders and other cluster groups also should be aggressively tracked, he said.
Green said he recommended to the governor’s leadership team Monday testing everyone in prison, increasing the state’s contact tracing program to more than 400 people, and agreeing on a clear reference point for when to lock down Hawaii and when to expand hospital beds, among other actions.
If Hawaii’s COVID-19 cases don’t come down, Green said hospitals would suspend elective procedures and expand their beds immediately. If that isn’t enough, Green said Hawaii would have to ask for federal support to build out additional capacity.
“We aren’t there yet,” he said.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser staff writer Allison Schaefers contributed to this report.