Hawaii had its highest COVID- 19 count ever reported in one day on Sunday, and if the trajectory continues, officials warn that it could lead to a 72-hour stay-at-home order over the Labor Day holiday.
State Department of Health officials Sunday reported two new coronavirus-related deaths and 1,678 new confirmed and probable infections statewide, bringing the state’s totals since the start of the pandemic to 589 fatalities and 62,229 cases.
The statistics released Sunday reflect the new infection cases reported to the department Friday. The Health Department said Sunday’s case count includes a backlog of cases that occurred when one lab experienced system errors Aug. 15-25.
DOH spokesman Brooks Baehr said the lab, which is one of more than 80 that the state works with, failed to get test results to the company that aggregates the information.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that “at least 600 or 700 of the cases appear to be a part of the backlog.”
“The extreme increase in testing, which is necessary, is making it more difficult for the Department of Health to give a day-to-day updated count,” Green said.
Green said the state reported a clean 1,035 cases Friday. On Aug. 13 the state reported 1,167 cases, but that number included backlogged cases.
“No matter how you slice it, COVID-19 is running roughshod through the islands, and people must take necessary steps to protect themselves. Vaccinate. Mask. Distance. Stay home when sick. Avoid crowds,” he said.
The case-counting issue is indicative of the intense strain on the state’s health infrastructure, officials said.
“This tidal wave of cases is straining our ability to respond at all levels — our hospitals, our labs and even our morgues are nearing or at capacity,” said Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char in a release. “We have not yet reached the peak of this surge, and we will not until Hawaii residents take further steps to protect themselves and their families.”
Green said 414 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Sunday. Although Sunday’s COVID-19 hospitalizations showed some plateauing, Green said a Labor Day holiday spike in cases could quickly overwhelm the state, which at 500 hospitalizations would have difficulty maintaining services.
“If our numbers continue to press up against 500, I think that the governor and mayors will have to strongly consider life- preserving policy changes, which would at least mean a 72-hour stay-at-home order over the holiday,” he said. “We saw what happened over July Fourth. Labor Day could be like pouring gasoline over the fire,” Green said.
Hawaii has now surpassed 10,000 new COVID-19 cases in the past 14-days, with 10,817 cases documented in the past two weeks.
The state’s official coronavirus-related death toll includes 455 fatalities on Oahu, 68 on Maui, 59 on Hawaii island, three on Kauai and three Hawaii residents who died outside the state.
Health officials say the two people who died Sunday were female and hospitalized with underlying health conditions. One was in her 60s, the other in her 70s.
Green said the COVID-19 team will meet early this week to discuss the numbers and recommend action. Regardless of their findings, Green urged Hawaii residents to voluntarily avoid social gatherings, especially over the holiday weekend.
But, historically, it has been a challenge to get everyone to heed COVID-19 safety recommendations.
On Saturday, DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement and the Honolulu Police Department broke up a “beach takeover” that attracted an estimated 300 to 400 attendees, many of whom were University of Hawaii students.
Four people were cited for petty misdemeanors, which carry the potential for fines and jail time, in connection with the potential “super- spreader” event at the Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline in East Oahu.
Jason Redulla, DOCARE enforcement chief, said during a news conference Sunday that the officers poured out “loads of alcohol” as they ordered maskless, nonsocially distancing revelers to leave the area.
“This particular party should not have occurred,” Redulla said. “People should think about the effects of their conduct as it relates to attending this party. There is the potential now that COVID can spread and create higher case counts that result in more severe public restrictions. Further, it created the unnecessary exposure of the virus to the attendees, their family and their friends.”
Redulla implored people not to attend large gatherings, which he said violate Oahu’s current rule that restricts outdoor gatherings to 25 or fewer people. He said such gatherings also unduly tax law enforcement officials, who already are dealing with finite resources.
Redulla warned that law enforcement officials plan to aggressively enforce emergency rules, especially as the upcoming Labor Day holiday approaches.
“It is long past the time for law enforcement and health experts to have to warn people about the risks associated with big, unpermitted gatherings anywhere in Hawaii,” he said. “I and many others take an extremely dim view of the dimwitted, selfish behaviors of irresponsible people, no matter their ages.”
Redulla said DOCARE is now at the point that future intervention will prompt a firmer approach.
“We aren’t going to be using the carrot anymore; we will have to use the stick approach,” he said.
Redulla said that he has instructed DOCARE officers to confiscate any equipment or supplies used for illegal gatherings.
“If the loss of personal property, taken for evidence in criminal prosecutions, is not enough to get these people to start acting responsibly, we hope it doesn’t take their friends or loved ones getting sick or dying to wake them up,” he said.