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Editorial: COVID-19 is still active and deadly

Oahu’s fledgling four-tiered plan to curb COVID-19 spread is seeing encouraging figures on metrics dictating economic reopening: improvements on the number of daily cases reported and test positivity rate. Even so, the city’s recovery framework requires us to remain in Tier 1, the starting point and most restrictive bracket, for at least four consecutive weeks.

Both of Week One’s rolling averages, tallied Thursday, were low enough to meet Tier 2 levels — a seven-day average case count of between 50 and 100, and a seven-day average test positivity rate of between 2.5% and 5%. Oahu’s first opportunity to climb a rung on the ladder hinges on meeting Tier 2 criteria for the last two weeks of the current four-week period, which wraps up on Oct. 22.

The importance of fighting hard to fend off potential public health and economic setbacks locally is now underscored by cautionary tales unfolding in Washington, D.C., following President Donald Trump being sickened by the virus.

By Tuesday evening, more than 20 people who had been in contact with the president or attended White House or campaign events last week had tested positive.

This quick infection spread within the Trump administration’s inner circles — including the first lady and more than a dozen White House aides and associates — serves as an alarming reminder that the virus is raging, that vigorous contact tracing is needed to help contain the threat, and that each person’s preventative habits remain solid.

Last month, Hawaii hospitals estimated that 1 in 10 individuals who test positive will need hospitalization. The state’s health care system should be lauded for handling the summer’s surges in COVID-19 cases by shifting personnel, recruiting new workers, modifying hospital spaces and working long hours. We must now redouble effort to avoid spikes that could quickly strain the already stressed system.

Honolulu Hale’s reopening plan is rightly more deliberate in ramp-up than earlier efforts that resulted in infection surge. Reaching the least restrictive point in the framework’s spectrum, Tier 4, demands patience and commitment to employing COVID-fighting weapons — mask-wearing, hand-washing, physical distancing and contact tracing.

Shortly after Trump returned to the White House on Monday night after three nights at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, a video was released in which his take on the virus was at odds with the public health warnings of his own administration that Americans take the threat seriously and take precautions to avoid contracting and spreading the disease.

“Don’t be afraid of it,” Trump said. “You’re going to beat it. We have the best medical equipment, we have the best medicines.” This statement — along with another in which he advised, “Don’t let it (the virus) dominate your lives” — may have been intended to convey bravery, but it was a missed opportunity to reinforce the values of mask-wearing and physical-distancing safeguards.

Moreover, it’s worth noting that when the president was stricken, he had access to experimental treatment and high-quality health care not available to most people. The virus has killed some 210,000 Americans. Without an effective vaccine or a treatment that’s widely available, the only safe path forward in everyday life requires ample precaution.

Also concerning is the president’s move on Tuesday to pull the plug on additional federal pandemic relief funding until after the Nov. 3 election. Honolulu has allocated well over half of $387 million in CARES Act money it has received to date, and all funds must be spent by a December deadline. And Gov. David Ige, in particular, must be more brisk and detailed on the state’s strategy to use the federal funds well.

Clearly, though, more federal aid is needed through Hawaii’s economic slog. That, plus health-smart commitment from all of us to do our part so that we can ascend, slowly but surely, up the tiers toward economic recovery.

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