Oahu’s stay-at-home, work-from-home order to curb a surge in new daily coronavirus cases will continue for at least the next two weeks, with changes to allow for limited outdoor activities.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced Tuesday at a Honolulu Hale news conference that parks, beaches and hiking trails will reopen Thursday to allow for solo activities, including reading, meditating, eating, jogging and sitting on the beach alone.
“The one thing we’re not going to do a second time is rush to reopen and then have another spike and have that occur during the holiday season,” he said. “So we’re going to be much more cautious, much more conservative and much more careful in terms of protecting the health of our community.”
The city is trying to “create very simple, bright-line enforcement measures” so Oahu doesn’t return to out-of-control gatherings that caused cases to explode this summer, he said.
Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, argued the extension brings “businesses closer to permanent closure” and that state and county officials should work with industry leaders in creating a reopening plan.
“Hawaii’s local businesses are stepping up to take the economic brunt of the pandemic,” she said. “In return, they deserve to be heard and respected in determining a path forward.”
Caldwell acknowledged the frustration of many residents and businesses on the brink of closure with the extended lockdown order.
“I understand how upset people are, and I understand from where they stand they see it as being unfair,” he said.
“It’s not a simple one-size-fits-all. We’re going to take it … slow and cautiously so we don’t have to do another lockdown,” he added. “It does mean there could be frustration with the pace, but … we’re putting health and safety first so we can get back to a healthy economy.”
The amended emergency order that went into effect Aug. 27 is extended through Sept. 23. The city is waiting to see the number of cases drop over the next one to two weeks.
“The number of cases still, it hasn’t come down as much as we would like, and that is concerning,” he said.
Health officials Tuesday reported two new coronavirus deaths on Oahu and Maui and 66 new infections — the first double-digit daily increase in more than a month after recording triple-digit numbers for most of August and early September. Separately, another death was reported at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home on Hawaii island.
The statewide totals since the beginning of the pandemic are now at 88 fatalities and 10,025 cases. The U.S. death toll has surpassed 189,000.
There were far fewer tests than normal — 774 — following the Labor Day holiday weekend. The positive cases represent 8% of the total tested. Of the 237,786 coronavirus tests conducted so far by state and clinical laboratories since the start of the outbreak, 4.2% have been positive.
For businesses unable to generate revenue, “it’s heartbreaking and heart- wrenching,” Caldwell said, adding the city has expended about $60 million to help small businesses.
“There is this balance, but I know it’s extremely hard and don’t for a minute not feel great heartache for the troubles that people are going through.”
The city has committed to fund 250 to 500 contact tracers with federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money and is finalizing plans for a second quarantine hotel, he said.
The mayor has said he is evaluating daily the status of the health care system, contact tracing capabilities, the rate of positive tests, case counts and other factors such as patterns of transmission to determine the best course of action.
As of Tuesday there were 6,874 active cases statewide and 3,063 patients now classified as recovered — about 30% of those infected.
“We’re turning the corner on active cases, and the hospital numbers have begun to decline,” Lt. Gov. Josh Green told the Honolulu Star- Advertiser Tuesday. “I’m really proud of people; their sacrifices worked. It is certainly time to increase people’s freedom somewhat and make sure people can be outside in low-risk activities.”
With declining infections, the state can begin to open tourism on Oct. 1, he said.
“We’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he added. “We have a chance now to knock COVID down.”
Meanwhile, the Kokua Council for Senior Citizens filed a petition to the Hawaii Supreme Court Tuesday to compel the Department of Health to increase the number of contact tracers and provide translation services. The petition filed by attorney Lance Collins also asks the court to appoint a special master to oversee compliance. It came after DOH missed a Tuesday deadline to respond to a legal demand letter from the Kokua Council.