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Hawaii officials urge vigilance as Thanksgiving holiday approaches

State officials are reminding residents that traditional Thanksgiving gatherings this year can increase the chances of spreading COVID-19 even as the numbers appear to be on a downward trend in Hawaii.

Health officials recommend that families celebrate with their own households at home or with others virtually during Thanksgiving next week, saying traditional holiday festivities hosting friends and families from multiple households are among the “highest-risk scenarios” for transmitting COVID-19.

“We will soon enter six weeks of the holiday season, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s,” said state health director Dr. Elizabeth Char in a statement earlier this month. “If we celebrate as we always have, Hawaii will see another dangerous rise in cases. We must avoid ‘superspreader’ events, especially if infection rates and case counts surge in our state. We all need to remain vigilant to protect our island home by avoiding large indoor gatherings, dinners or parties.”

Statewide cases

The state Health Department on Wednesday reported one coronavirus-­related death on Hawaii island and 71 new infections statewide, bringing the totals since the start of the pandemic to 223 fatalities and 16,734 cases.

A man in his 20s who had underlying conditions and had been hospitalized on Hawaii island died, according to health officials.

The new cases included 59 on Oahu, two each on Maui and Hawaii island, and eight Hawaii residents diagnosed outside the state. As a result of updated information, one previous case from Oahu and one out-of-state case were removed from the state’s tally. The dashboard listed 82 patients as currently hospitalized.

On Hawaii island, county officials said nine Hawaii island residents are hospitalized, and 49 deaths have been reported, although more than a dozen are still going through the state Health Department’s verification process.

“Hawaii island has seen increased community transmitted cases of coronavirus in recent weeks,” said a Hawaii County Civil Defense alert to residents. “This increase of coronavirus cases is of great concern and with the coming holidays and traditional gatherings demonstrates the critical need for you to follow the preventive policies of face coverings, distancing and gatherings. Only with your help can we stop the spread of the virus.”

Hawaii island police will be enforcing those preventive policies, the alert said.

The cumulative tally of coronavirus cases by island since the start of the outbreak to Wednesday stood at 14,431 on Oahu, 1,487 in Hawaii County, 545 on Maui, 106 on Lanai, 82 on Kauai, and 17 on Molokai. Another 157 Hawaii residents were diagnosed outside of the state.

On Kauai, health officials from the district office announced one new case of COVID-19 on Wednesday that was not counted in the state’s tally for the day.

The case is a male resident who received a negative, pre-travel test result as part of the Safe Travels program, but who got a positive result following a voluntary, post-travel test.

Among Oahu’s totals are eight inmates at the Waiawa Correctional Facility, according to the Hawaii Department of Public Safety.

The inmates were placed in medical isolation on Tuesday while awaiting test results, and the confirmed positives were received Wednesday morning. Two other inmates are also in medical isolation with pending test results, while 130 others have been placed under quarantine as a precaution.

Contact tracing by state health officials is underway, while testing will be conducted for inmates that had close contact with the COVID-19-positive inmates.

Staying in Tier 2

Caldwell on Monday said it would be “really difficult” for Oahu to advance to Tier 3 level restrictions by Thanksgiving Day next Thursday due to the level of coronavirus cases on the island.

To move to Tier 3 from Tier 2, the 7-day average of new cases must be below 50 on two consecutive Wednesdays. Also, the 7-day average positivity rate, or percentage of tests coming back positive, must be below 2.5% on those two Wednesdays.

On Wednesday, Oahu’s 7-day average was at 73, and positivity rate at 2.6%.

Social gatherings of up to five are allowed, but discouraged, under Tier 2. Honolulu’s OneOahu.org website offers alternative suggestions for Thanksgiving, including a Zoom gathering with a coordinated menu or cooking meals, making signature drinks and watching the football game at home together, virtually.

People getting together should ideally isolate leading up to the gathering, get tested, and eat outside at least 6 feet apart. Also, they should wear masks when not eating.

Statewide, Hawaii’s new coronavirus cases are holding relatively steady at a 7-day average of 88. Hawaii was listed by the New York Times as a state where new cases are lower, and staying low, along with the U.S. Virgin Islands and Northern Mariana Islands.

The number of coronavirus cases, meanwhile, are spiking across many mainland U.S. states, which are implementing stricter measures to slow down the infections.

On Wednesday, the state Health Department also announced that total of $135,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds would be available to Medicare-certified, skilled nursing facilities in Hawaii to purchase equipment facilitating in-person visits from relatives and friends.

The facilities may apply for grants up to $3,000 for equipment such as clear barriers for indoor visits and tents for outdoor visits.

TIPS FOR HOLIDAY GATHERINGS

The state Health Department offered the following guidance for in-person holiday gatherings:

>> Be responsible: First of all, it is important to not host or participate in any in-person festivities if you or anyone in your household has COVID-19 symptoms, is waiting on test results, may have been exposed (basically anyone subject to quarantine), has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and has not met the criteria for when it is safe to be around others, or is at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

>> Location: Indoor gatherings generally pose more risk than outdoor gatherings. Indoor gatherings with poor ventilation pose more risk than those with good ventilation. Plan for outdoor events or leave doors and windows open.

>> Duration: The longer the event, the more risk of exposure. Consider having shorter celebrations.

>> Number of invitees: Gatherings with more people pose more risk than those with fewer people. The size of a holiday gathering should be based on the ability to reduce or limit contact between attendees and the risk of spread between attendees. Keep a distance of at least 6 feet apart from those who are not from the same household. Also, gatherings with out-of-state guests may pose a higher risk than with those who live in the same area.

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