Just a few months ago Hawaii and the rest of the nation watched as New York City struggled as the country’s coronavirus epicenter, its hospitals overwhelmed and its mayor pleading for help.
Times have changed.
In a cruel twist, the state of New York, along with Connecticut and New Jersey, on Tuesday placed Hawaii on its tri-state list of states and territories from which travelers are required to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
The reason: COVID-19 is spiking here. Officials from the tri-state region don’t want people of Hawaii bringing the infection to their area, where the virus is generally now under control.
Hawaii was added to the travel-advisory list along with South Dakota and the Virgin Islands. They join 29 other states where COVID-19 is trending upward.
The news comes as Hawaii counted 118 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, the latest in a nearly two-week string of triple-digit counts.
State Department of Health officials also reported the deaths of two elderly Oahu men, who they said will be counted as coronavirus-related fatalities in today’s COVID-19 tally. No further details were given.
Elsewhere, Lt. Gov. Josh Green warned that Hawaii will see 30 deaths over the next five weeks if current escalating rates of hospitalization continue.
“The key thing to do is to get off our butts and stop the spread of the virus, which is completely necessary, very difficult, but doable,” Green told a virtual meeting of the Pacific Asia Travel Association Hawaii Chapter.
He added that if the upward trend in cases continues through the end of this week, the state may have to return to lockdown for two weeks and possibly four, to break the cycle of the virus.
While Tuesday’s coronavirus case total was a drop from recent numbers, state health officials said the result was probably due to a decrease in the number of tests.
“This is the lowest daily triple-digit case count, but it is unclear as to whether this was a result of a decrease in the number of tests. However, the percent of positivity over the past week remains relatively unchanged at 5.8%,” officials said in a statement.
Tuesday’s new COVID-19 cases included 112 on Oahu, two on Hawaii island, and four in Maui County. Kauai County later announced two more cases — related to interisland travel — but noted they would be added to today’s count. Ironically, the announcement came on the same day the state began a partial interisland quarantine for travelers flying to any of the neighbor islands.
In other virus developments:
>> The state Department of Public Safety said four additional Oahu Community Correctional Center guards and three OCCC inmates tested positive for COVID-19. That brings the total number of correctional officers at OCCC with positive test results to seven and inmates to nine. Contact tracing of all staff and inmate cases within the department is being conducted by the Department of Health.
>> Thirteen cases of COVID-19 were linked to public school campuses statewide. In a news conference, the Hawaii State Teachers Association accused the state Department of Education of not notifying parents and teachers about the cases. Later in the day, however, Superintendent Christina Kishimoto held her own news briefing to say proper notifications were issued.
>> City officials said another bus driver tested positive for COVID-19 and was immediately placed on leave and quarantined. This is the sixth driver of TheBus or TheHandi-Van to test positive for COVID-19. The driver, who handled routes in Kapolei and Ewa Beach, did not have COVID-19 symptoms while on the job and last worked on Saturday, officials said.
>> U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard renewed her call to oust state Health Director Bruce Anderson and state Epidemiologist Sarah Park, who have come under fire for the department’s contact tracing capacity. Gabbard’s tweet to Gov. David Ige said in part: “This is your responsibility. Your Health Director is keeping hundreds of trained contact tracers ‘on the bench’ because he doesn’t think they’re needed. Meanwhile, we have the highest infection rate in the nation. This is gross negligence.”
>> Fast food restaurant chain Popeyes Hawaii disclosed that an employee at the Dillingham location was diagnosed with COVID-19. The store was temporarily closed for cleaning, and all employees who may have come in contact with the worker were being tested and self isolating, the company said in a statement.
As for Hawaii residents planning to visit New York, Connecticut and New Jersey, prepare to include a two-week self-quarantine in your travel plans.
“Hawaii, South Dakota & the Virgin Islands have been added to NY’s coronavirus travel advisory,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted Tuesday.
Cuomo and the other tri-state governors also announced that Alaska, New Mexico, Ohio and Rhode Island were being removed from the list because their cases are trending downward.
The criteria for inclusion on the list is a positive test rate 10 per 100,000 residents on a seven-day rolling average, or 10% of the state’s total population infected on a seven-day rolling average.
New York is requiring air travelers coming from the affected states to fill out a form with their local contact information, allowing contact tracers to ensure the travelers are quarantining.
Failure to fill out the form can carry a fine of $2,000.