Oahu’s 14-day lockdown on business and other activities starts today in a move that aims to slow down the island’s relentless streak of triple-digit daily coronavirus infections.
The order, however, remained in limbo for much of Wednesday while officials apparently locked horns over the length of the mandate.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said state Health Director Bruce Anderson wanted the duration of the “Stay At Home / Work From Home” order lengthened to 28 days.
“I sent it back to him (Gov. David Ige) and said I’m not going to do what Dr. Anderson requested,” Caldwell said Wednesday afternoon. “I’m not going to do something I don’t want to do.”
Caldwell said Ige agreed to the two weeks on Tuesday morning. Ige said he believes 14 days is enough time to make progress against the pandemic and he can always renew for another two weeks if not.
Only nine hours before it was to take effect at 12:01 this morning, the governor finally signed the mayor’s order as is.
Asked for a response from Anderson, the Department of Health issued a statement denying the department held up the order.
“The Department of Health recommended the order be for 28 days or two incubation periods, to determine the effectiveness of control measures. Two incubation periods allow time to evaluate the results before new mitigation measures are taken. Any length of time will undoubtedly help and could be extended if needed.”
Ige’s office sent a news release Wednesday night announcing that the governor signed the order.
“We have taken measures in recent weeks to address the surge in COVID cases. Although we’ve seen a leveling off in cases on Oahu, they’re still too high and our healthcare system is still at risk. Let’s work together to flatten the curve,” Ige said in the release.
Earlier in the day, the department reported 277 new infections statewide, raising the total number of cases to 7,260 since the start of the pandemic.
There were also two more COVID-19-related deaths on Oahu, bringing the number of fatalities to 51. The victims were both men with underlying health conditions who had been hospitalized. One was in his 50s while the other was in his 60s.
No other information was provided
As of Wednesday, nearly 5,000 infections in Hawaii were considered active cases, while the positivity rate reached 11%, which is in the “red zone” (above 10%) that U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams warned about when too many tests are coming back positive.
It was that high positivity rate that sounded alarms in Washington, D.C, Adams said, and resulted in the two weeks of federally funded surge testing that started Wednesday at Kaneohe District Park and Leeward Community College.
Those tests sites were wildly popular Wednesday with lines of cars stretching for miles, and some people waiting for up to four hours. The Kaneohe site was closed down for a while due to traffic, and hours of operations were extended at both sites for a couple of hours.
The free drive-thru testing will continue today at Ewa Mahiko, Waianae and Kalakaua district parks.
Adams also announced Wednesday that a federal COVID-19 Response Assistance Field Team arrived in Honolulu on Monday to assist the state in its efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The team drops into emerging hot spots to support local and state efforts in their battle against the virus, he said.
According to the Hawaii COVID-19 Joint Information Center, the team will be working on such things as school reopening plans, disease mitigation and testing strategies and will be meeting with county mayors and emergency management directors in the coming days.
Meanwhile, the Health Department appears to have gotten into more hot water as State Auditor Les Kondo released a report Wednesday saying the department failed to cooperate in the auditor’s examination of the agency’s highly criticized contact tracing program.
In a preamble to the report, Kondo said his agency intended to report on DOH’s contact tracing process with the aim of providing a clearer picture of the department’s contact tracing, which is the investigative work that follows the disease through the contacts of those who test positive.
“However, instead of cooperation and assistance, we encountered barriers, delays, and ultimately were denied access to those responsible for leading the department’s contact tracing,” he wrote.
Asked for comment, DOH spokesperson Janice Okubo said the department had only received the report in the afternoon and needed time to review it.
Also on Wednesday, Ige clarified the stay-at-home order’s provisions for educational institutions. He said the order allows private schools to operate as essential functions, as long as they comply with social distancing and face mask requirements and implement distance learning to the greatest extent possible.
As for public schools, the state Department of Education and the University of Hawaii system “will determine what is necessary, appropriate and safe with respect to in-person instruction at the public schools and UH campuses,” he said.
Caldwell said Wednesday that if it were up to him, he would have closed the DOE and the university during the lockdown.