Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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Editorial: Safety comes first for long weekend

At this time last year, Hawaii’s health care organizations were close to being overwhelmed. Daily COVID-19 levels were on track to plateau at 300-plus new cases and nearly 300 hospitalized patients. In response, shortly before 2020’s Labor Day weekend, Honolulu Hale imposed a ban on nearly all indoor and outdoor social gatherings to help slow the spread of the virus.

That order put a damper on many plans for end-of-summer beach outings and backyard barbecues. However, it was a justified move, given that large gatherings held months earlier on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July holidays — in the islands and elsewhere — had fueled surges in cases.

Now, case counts here are rising to even more alarming levels — hospital beds are near or at capacity, non-emergency surgeries are being canceled, and health care officials are scrambling to bring in medical-grade oxygen from the mainland amid worries that hospitals could run short. Hawaii residents must take further steps to protect themselves, their families and the statewide community.

Indeed, due to the current public health danger, strict enforcement of emergency rules is warranted. Further, county and state leaders should be taking a hard look at Lt. Josh Green’s sensible call for a 72-hour stay-at-home order or “pause” spanning the Labor Day weekend, given dire hospitalization rates.

Speaking on the Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight Hawaii” webcast on Monday, Green pointed out that the daily statewide hospitalization tally, which is now topping 400, is about 33% higher than than last year’s peak of 318, when vaccines were not yet available.

“We can only get up to about 500 people in the hospitals with COVID and continue to know that we have enough ICU beds and comprehensive care,” Green said. Under the “worst of circumstances,” he noted, Hawaii has a total of some 710 beds available for COVID-19 patients.

A holiday-weekend safeguard measure, then, of “absolutely no gatherings outside of family bubbles,” makes sense to minimize infections.

Last week, with high levels of COVID-19 cases threatening Oahu, Mayor Rick Blangiardi took the difficult but needed step of canceling a roster of organized big events and limited gatherings to small groups of 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors for a period of four weeks. But it’s appalling that just days after the directive was announced, about 300 people, including many college students, turned up for a beach party at Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline.

The city’s new restrictions hold potential to help tamp the growing threat, but only with widespread compliance. To that end, it’s essential that Blangiardi has directed the Honolulu Police Department to ramp up enforcement efforts. Also, in advance of the holiday weekend, HPD or the city ought to consider installing a hotline for residents to report violations.

At the state level, Jason Redulla, enforcement chief at the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, within the Department of Land and Natural Resources, has rightly said that breaking up too-large gatherings unduly burdens law enforcement officials equipped with finite resources.

After the Kaiwi situation, Redulla said that he has instructed enforcement officers to confiscate equipment and supplies used for illegal gatherings. He added: “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.”

The public-health goal, for all of us, is to contain the deadly COVID-19 surge — a particularly timely reminder heading into the holiday weekend. “We don’t want to have an experience like July Fourth weekends of the past — where we take this large number of cases and we essentially pour gasoline on the fire,” Green emphasized. He’s right. To avoid further virus-related setbacks, limit Labor Day plans to your household circle.

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