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Hawaii island sees first COVID-19 deaths as statewide case counts rise above expectations

Oahu’s case counts heading into September have outpaced the 5,000 active cases worried health care officials said would overwhelm the system.

The Hawaii Department of Health reported one new coronavirus-related death on Oahu on Sunday, and 200 new cases, bringing the statewide totals since the beginning of the pandemic to 63 fatalities and 8,339 cases. As of Sunday, active cases statewide had risen to 5,756 infections, a number health care officials have said will surely strain resources.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Sunday afternoon that 277 patients with COVID were currently hospitalized and based on active infections he would expect another 400 to 600 hospitalizations are coming.

“That’s going to really press our capacity to deliver health care,” Green said.

“If the stay-at-home order (that started Thursday) works we’ll get out of this alive,” Green said. “If we continue with the same level of case counts that we’ve had, it’s a problem in two weeks. But this could be the worst of it if the stay-at-home order works.”

Hawaii’s run of triple-digit increases in daily new COVID-19 cases in August prompted state, city and federal government to partner in a free surge testing program on Oahu, with plans to administer tests to 5,000 people each day for two weeks. Go to doIneedacovid19test.com for more information.

Mia Palmieri Heck, director of external affairs for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email that as of Saturday 2,451 individuals who had been surge tested in Honolulu had received their results. Of those, she said 27 had come back positive — a 1% positivity rate.

On the state testing side, which isn’t reported with the surge testing results, Hawaii’s positivity rate was at 7.2% on Sunday. Just last Wednesday, Hawaii’s positivity rate was 11%, a percentage U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams flagged as heading into the “red” or unacceptable spread category.

The state reported one new coronavirus related death Sunday, but two others in Hilo were not included in that count.

The Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home reported the deaths of two patients, who had underlying health conditions, on Sunday, according to Elena Cabatu, director of public affairs for the Hilo Medical Center, which owns the building where Avalon Health Care operates the home.

Cabatu said one of the patients died Saturday and one died Sunday. The deaths were the first coronavirus-­related for Hawaii island, she said.

Hawaii island has seen a surge in cases over the past week and its total number of cases surpassed Maui County’s total for the first time Sunday. Health officials reported 174 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday on Oahu, 22 on Hawaii island, and four in Maui County.

Sunday’s total corona­virus cases by county since the start of the outbreak included 7,584 on Oahu, 340 in Hawaii County, 334 in Maui County, and 57 in Kauai County. The total statewide counts also include 24 Hawaii residents who were diagnosed out of state.

Cabatu, of Hilo Medical Center, said 27 residents, including the two who died, and 10 employees have tested positive at the veterans home.

“It’s thought that the virus entered the facility through a staff member. That’s the only way that it could have been brought into the nursing home facilities since its been on lockdown since March,” she said. “They took all the precautions.”

Cabatu said six patients are hospitalized, 19 are at the veteran’s home under COVID care, and two have died.

The bulk of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been on Oahu, which is why Ige reestablished a partial interisland quarantine on Aug. 11.

“It may have been a little late, but that’s OK, we’ll do our best to manage this and right now is the time that everyone needs to do our best and hunker down,” Cabatu said.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Public Safety continues to grapple with outbreaks, especially at the Oahu Community Correctional Center. As of Sunday, OCCC had 45 active cases among staff and 81 among inmates. Officials reported 13 OCCC staff members and 208 inmates have already recovered.

On Saturday, PSD released another 25 inmates as part of a Hawaii Supreme Court emergency coronavirus-­related order to reduce overcrowding at OCCC.

While many members of the community support directives related to health care, the ongoing inmate release and lockdowns have been controversial.

On Sunday, the Honolulu County Republican Party delivered an open letter to Caldwell urging him to reopen Oahu and reminding him that economic costs also take a toll on health care.

Brett Kulbis, chairman of the Honolulu County Republican Party, wrote in the letter to Ige: “Your lockdowns have created an atmosphere ripe for new cases of depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, and even suicide that will lead to untold misery for thousands of local families.”

The letter urged Caldwell to “keep our county open, and let us get on with our lives.”

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