Gov. David Ige on Tuesday imposed new restrictions statewide that limit private social gatherings and the number of people who can gather in bars, restaurants and other establishments in an attempt to dampen the spread of COVID-19 and avert a health care crisis.
The new executive order, which took effect immediately, limits social gatherings to no more than 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors. Bars, restaurants, gyms, and other social establishments also must reduce their capacity by 50%. Patrons must remain seated, with 6 feet of distance maintained between parties, and cannot mingle. Masks are required at all times, except when eating or drinking.
Professionally sponsored events, such as weddings, meetings, banquets and conventions, also must submit safety plans to the respective counties for approval.
“We need to take action, and we need to take action now,” said Ige during a news conference called to announce the new executive order, which remains in effect until Oct. 18, unless extended. The number of COVID-19 cases in Hawaii has been doubling every seven to 10 days, said Ige.
The highly contagious delta variant has fueled a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases throughout the islands, causing government and health care officials to scramble to implement surge capacity at hospitals, bring in extra nurses, boost the number of contact tracers and increase the state’s ability to test for the virus.
Just weeks ago the state was moving toward a full reopening as the pandemic seemed to have been under control amid low case counts and a growing vaccination rate. But Hawaii is now averaging more than 500 cases a day, double what it was in August 2020 at the then height of the pandemic. Hospitals are already grappling with an influx of patients, and executives worry that the need for treatment could outstrip available beds and staffing levels.
Jason Chang, chief operating officer of The Queen’s Health Systems and president of The Queen’s Medical Center, said nurses are “upbeat and in good spirits” but are tired as they work double and triple shifts.
The hospital system currently has 96 COVID-19 patients, a number that is approaching last year’s peak, he said.
“It is scary because our projections are that it’s going to be much more, much higher, because we never lived through the day where we had 600 additional new cases, followed up by three additional days that had 600 new cases,” said Chang during a news conference. “So we are preparing for the worst.”
The hospital has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for additional staff to relieve tired nurses, as have other local health care systems.
There are currently 246 people people hospitalized throughout the state with COVID-19, 92.3% of whom are unvaccinated, said Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who on Tuesday morning toured one of the COVID-19 wards at Queen’s along with Mayor Rick Blangiardi.
Green warned that the number of people in the hospital could double in the next two to three weeks, based on the current number of active cases.
Half of those who are now being hospitalized are under the age of 50, said Green.
“People think it was just old people, our kupuna, that were getting sick and coming to the hospital,” said Green. “That is not correct any longer. It is a younger disease now.”
As of Tuesday, 60.9% of residents were fully vaccinated, and 68.5% of residents had received at least one dose, according to state data. Nearly 100% of residents over the age of 65 have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and the vast majority are fully vaccinated. Vaccination rates are significantly lower in younger age brackets, while residents under 12 still aren’t eligible for the shots.
As cases surge throughout the state, Hawaii’s Department of Public Safety is also grappling with new cases in its jails and prisons, including an outbreak at the Kauai Community Correctional Center, which had until now managed to escape the major outbreaks that other facilities have experienced. Thirty-one inmates at the Kauai jail tested positive for the coronavirus, and another 94 were negative, the Public Safety Department reported Tuesday.
The department also reported seven new positive cases among staff at the jails on Kauai, Maui and Oahu, as well as two positive cases among staff at the Women’s Community Correctional Center. There are also seven new cases among inmates at Oahu Community Correctional Center.
“The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) is conducting contact tracing and investigation, but it is safe to say that the preliminary cause appears to be from the rapid community spread across our state,” said Tommy Johnson, PSD deputy director for corrections, in a news release. “PSD is doing everything in its power to mitigate community spread into the facilities and will continue to follow the pandemic plan which is based on DOH and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for correctional facilities.”
State Department of Health officials reported 436 new confirmed and probable coronavirus infections Tuesday, bringing the state’s total since the start of the pandemic to 47,376 cases. The new infection count by island includes 292 new cases on Oahu, 33 on Maui, 76 on Hawaii island, 15 on Kauai, three on Molokai and 17 Hawaii residents diagnosed outside the state.
IGE’S NEW EXECUTIVE ORDER
>> Limits indoor social gatherings to 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 25 people.
>>Bars, restaurants, gyms and other social establishments must reduce their capacity by 50%.
>> Patrons in social establishments must remain seated, with 6 feet of distance between parties. No mingling is allowed, and masks must be worn at all times.
>> Professionally sponsored events, such as weddings, meetings, banquets and conventions, must submit mitigation plans detailing safety plans to the respective counties for approval.