Hawaii’s active coronavirus cases on Sunday went over 3,000 — a benchmark that health care officials have said would warrant a month-long stay-at-home order for Oahu, where most of the infections are.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who is a medical doctor, said Sunday that he plans to recommend today that Gov. David Ige consider giving the order to lock down Oahu again.
“The 3,161 active cases does greatly concern me as we are rapidly approaching capacity at health care facilities on Oahu. The daily number of cases is disconcerting too,” Green said.
Green said if Ige agrees with him and has consensus with Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, the lockdown could start in the next 48 hours or so. He said his recommendation would closely mimic the earlier March lockdown.
“The course of action that worked the best was when we had a stay-at-home order and went out for basics like health care, groceries and exercise just with our families,” Green said. “There could be some minor allowances for take-out food and essential work.”
Green said he’s also concerned about new daily cases and an increase in the ratio of tests coming back positive, which on Saturday and Sunday was hovering between 8% and 9%. The weekend brought the highest one-day positivity rates outside of Thursday, when the rate topped 10%.
Hawaii health officials reported 220 new coronavirus cases Sunday, raising the statewide total since the start of the pandemic to 5,042. Sunday’s new COVID-19 cases included 202 on Oahu, 14 in Maui County and four on Hawaii island, according to the state Department of Health’s tally.
The statewide death toll since the start of the outbreak remains at 40, but Green said the high active case load could unfortunately result in more serious illnesses and even deaths.
Dr. Scott Miscovich, the president and founder of Premier Medical Group Hawaii, who is running COVID testing sites, said he’s been recommending a stay-at-home lockdown for Oahu for the past five weeks.
He’s been seeing significant community spread for some time, and said about 90% of the 678 people who came through a drive-thru testing site operated by his company on Sunday reported that they wanted a test because they had been directly exposed to the virus.
Miscovich said Oahu’s clusters are especially concerning from various health care facilities and nursing homes to the Institute for Human Services Sumner’s Men’s Shelter in Iwilei to the Oahu Community Correctional Center to the Pacific Islander community.
On Sunday, the Queen’s Health Systems reported nine caregivers at The Queen’s Medical Center- Punchbowl had tested positive for COVID-19. Avalon Care Center Honolulu also reported three residents and two staff members were positive for coronavirus.
“The only way we will start to see decreases is shutting everything down, stay-at-home and work-at-home for Oahu. Unfortunately, it is already too late,”Miscovich said. “The numbers that we will see in our hospitals, our emergency rooms and intensive care are going to be surging over the next weeks because (Sunday’s ) numbers won’t be reflected until two weeks into the future and we were already coming close to capacity.”
Green said that on Sunday 143 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, including 35 patients in intensive care units and 25 on ventilators. But, “we’re facing about 350 likely hospitalizations and 70 intensive care unit admissions over the next three to four weeks.”
Green said hospitals are expanding ICU bed capacity and trying to increase staffing by 120%. In addition to asking health care workers to work overtime, Green said hospitals are seeking reinforcements from the mainland and military and could pull medical staff from the neighbor islands as long as sufficient capacity is maintained there.
“We can’t really afford to let the number get much higher, say 5,000 or 6,000 active cases will certainly overwhelm our health care capacity,” he said. “So it’s better to play offense and increase restrictions somewhat so that we can give the new leadership at the Department of Health time to catch up.”
Last week, Hawaii’s top health officials turned their much-maligned “contact tracing” program over to Dr. Emily Roberson, who was hired on July 16 to lead the Health Department’s Disease Investigation Branch, including its contact tracing program.
A source close to the health department said Sunday that state Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson is on personal leave. Representatives from the state DOH and the governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Green deferred to the DOH for comment.
It’s not clear who is now running DOH, which over the past several weeks of record COVID-19 cases has dealt with calls for the removal of Anderson and State Epidemiologist Sarah Park. On Thursday, it was DOH Deputy Director Danette Tomiyasu, not Anderson, who joined Ige for a press briefing.
Miscovich said a change in DOH leadership is warranted.
“My feeling is that the governor has to exert leadership. He has been lied to by the director of health and by his epidemiologist and he has been lied to repeatedly and in a pandemic,” Miscovich said. “This is unacceptable when people’s lives are being lost because of this deception. So these people must be taken out of their roles. I’m not the only voice that is saying that.”
Miscovich joined U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and DOH whistleblower Dr. Jennifer Smith, an epidemiological specialist/influenza surveillance and response coordinator at a Friday press conference criticizing DOH.
Smith said there were fewer than 10 contact tracers on Oahu. The alleged number is below the nearly 100 contact tracers that the DOH claimed last week were tracking down people who might have been exposed to coronavirus.
“We need to hit the pause button and stay at home and at the same time ramp up to over 400 contract tracers and over 10,000 tests a day,” Green said. “If you do that the virus will be contained.”
Only 3,033 tests were reported on Saturday and 2,649 on Sunday, he said.