DOH emphasizes social distancing

  • Courtesy photo State epidemiologist Sarah Park and state Health Director Bruce Anderson on Thursday offered an update about the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

Ten more cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Hawaii — eight on Oahu and two on Maui — bringing the total to 26, state health officials said.

“The 10 today were the result of extensive testing and analysis by private labs around the state,” said state Health Director Bruce Anderson during a media briefing Thursday. “We have now over 1,000 sample results over the past week or so and, again, that’s contributing to our total database on the extent of COVID-19.”


State epidemiologist Sarah Park said investigations into the 10 new cases are still ongoing, but that most are directly travel-related.

One case, however, is similar to an earlier case of a tour operator where there was no direct travel exposure, but rather exposure to travelers.

Park said the newly identified individual did not work in the visitor industry but might have been exposed to a lot of visitors.

“It doesn’t mean necessarily that there is absolutely no community spread at this time in Hawaii, it just means we’re not seeing widespread community transmission,” Park said. “There still exists possibility that there could be localized transmission we have not yet picked up …”

Community spread is defined as cases that cannot be traced back to a traveler and have absolutely no travel related or involved connection with travel.

Anderson said all of the state’s cases have a travel history or exposure to someone who has been traveling.

He added that the state Department of Health has completed a second round testing as part of its sentinel surveillance program, and has received no reports of positive tests among those samples, which come from individuals who have symptoms of a respiratory illness but the flu was ruled out.

“So the good news is that there doesn’t seem to be any evidence to date of community spread; the bad news is, of course, we are continuing to see the disease being brought to Hawaii by visitors.”

Anderson said a number of those cases, however, are residents returning to the state from areas where there has been virus activity.

Focus going forward will be on social distancing to limit the spread of the disease, he said.

“Social distancing is really the way that this illness is going to be stopped in its tracks and we’ll be hopefully able to prevent a situation that’s being seen in many other states in areas where the disease is active,” Anderson said.

He said actions by Gov. David Ige that aim to slow the spread of the disease are “particularly important now.”

Ige on Tuesday requested that bars and clubs close and restaurants move to a takeout/drive-through delivery mode.

“We want to deal with the issues, we want to prevent the disease before it gets into our communities when it’s really too late to make effective changes,” Anderson said.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, however, called for further restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19.

In social media posts Thursday, Green, a Big Island physician, said that to defeat the pandemic, all non-essential travel to Hawaii should be suspended through April 30, and anyone who comes to the state should be quarantined for two weeks.

Positive cases should be isolated completely, he said, and Hawaii should study states that are 2-4 weeks ahead “to prepare us for all of our needs.”

Green also recommended Hawaii stand up extra hospital capacity, with military support; screen at airports; and order millions more masks and swabs.

Ka‘u and Kona state Rep. Richard Creagan, also a physician, shared similar sentiments.

“My goal is … to have (Ige) say, ‘Any tourist that comes in here would have a mandatory, monitored quarantine period of 14 days. Or, they could just go home,” Creagan told the Tribune-Herald on Thursday. “That’s what we should say to tourists so they won’t come here. We can’t stop the flight … but we could, I think, definitely stop the tourists from coming here. If there’s nothing they could do, no tours, no restaurants, no bars, and they can’t go to the beach, you know, they’re not going to come here.”

Creagan also took issue with Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim’s response to Ige’s recommendations.

In a 9 p.m. Tuesday announcement after Ige’s directive, Kim went on the air to issue his own civil defense message to clarify.

“The County of Hawaii will maintain all of its services and operators as normal. All county employees are to report to work as scheduled,” Kim’s message said. “The state’s press conference release on closures for restaurants, bars and places of worship acted as a guide for all counties. Within this county, restaurants, bars and places of worship may make their own decision as to open or close.”

If they do stay open, the facilities are expected to identify measures they are taking to address cleanliness and block spread of coronavirus.

“Harry Kim saying, ‘Well, we don’t need to close down the bars and restaurants,’ that’s so lame,” Creagan said. “Of course we should, if we want to have any chance of stopping this. And we should just, basically, send the tourists home until we get a handle on this. That’s like 300,000 people here with … some of them bringing in the coronavirus. And that’s where the cases are coming from. Then, we’ll have a better chance.”

In a letter to Ige on Thursday, State House Speaker Scott Saiki said handling of the pandemic has been “utterly chaotic and there is mass confusion among the public.”

Saiki called on the governor to: institute an immediate statewide shutdown for the next 15 days and order all people in Hawaii to shelter-in-place for the same time frame; direct the Joint Incident Center to take all necessary steps to ensure the supply chain for basic necessities is secure; order the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency director to secure any needed hospital and medical supplies necessary to assist with the coming need to treat individuals because of COVID-19; quarantine travelers arriving from outside the state for 15 days; prohibit all nonessential interisland and out-of-state travel; and close all public and private schools, day care centers and preschools.

Also on Thursday:

• According to the state’s Joint Information Center on COVID-19, the single case identified on the Big Island is in a visitor from Texas who stayed in Hilo. The individual traveled from Texas through Los Angeles to Hawaii. No other information was immediately available.

• Traditional commencement ceremonies at the University of Hawaii’s 10 campuses have been canceled, UH President David Lassner announced Thursday.

“This decision has been the result of many hard conversations,” Lassner wrote in an update on the UH website. “Commencement is one of the most time-honored traditions in our society, and one of the most highly anticipated celebrations throughout our university system for students, their families and friends … We share in your disappointment that this unprecedented health crisis has robbed everyone of this moment.”

Students who would have walked in the ceremony this semester will have the chance to do so when in-person commencement resumes.

• Hawaii Counseling and Education Center, with offices on Hawaii Island and Oahu, is offering telemedicine services to individuals who are social distancing, home or laid off from work or are feeling stress of the COVID-19 situation.

Medical insurance covers the cost in most cases, but help is available at no cost to those who are uninsured or do not have telemedicine coverage.

For details or to schedule an appointment, call Debbi Waterman at 254-6484.


Reporter John Burnett contributed to this story.

Email Stephanie Salmons at

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