Hawaii records 1st death; Green stresses need to protect kupuna; ‘essential’ travel defined

  • Courtesy photo Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, state adjutant general and director of Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, speaks during a COVID-19 media briefing Tuesday.

  • Courtesy photo Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who leads the state’s COVID Task Force, speaks during a COVID-19 media briefing Tuesday.

  • Courtesy photo State Health Director Bruce Anderson speaks during a COVID-19 media briefing Tuesday.

The first COVID-19-related death in Hawaii is that of an elderly Oahu man who tested positive for the coronavirus after being hospitalized, authorities revealed Tuesday during a statewide media conference.

State Health Director Bruce Anderson said the man “was hospitalized recently with multiple medical issues.” He died Monday night at an undisclosed Oahu medical facility.

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“It’s not clear at this time exactly what the cause of death was, but the individual did have a positive COVID-19-associated exposure, and it possibly did contribute,” Anderson said. “Our staff are investigating the death and reviewing the private laboratory test result.”

Lt. Gov Josh Green, a Kona physician who leads the state’s COVID Task Force, said authorities “knew it was coming.”

“We were prepared for this, but our hearts still go out to the family,” Green said.

“The reason we have to be serious about staying at home, the home quarantine, is because when spread goes out and it touches our kupuna, they’re very vulnerable,” he added. “… All can get it. All can become sick. But when our kupuna gets the virus COVID-19, and they’re between age 75 and 79, the likelihood of dying is much higher. It’s as high as 8%.

“If a kupuna gets the virus, and they are 80 or older, it’s (a) 14.4% mortality rate.”

Most reports put the death rate of those who become ill after contracting the virus at about 3%.

“That’s why we‘re so serious and we … ask everyone to take the order completely to heart, and to not go out if you don’t need to, and to social distance any time you are out,” Green said.

As of noon Tuesday, 224 cases were reported statewide, an increase of 20 cases since Monday.

The bulk of the total cases are in the City and County of Honolulu, 157, and 18 of the newly reported cases are there. Maui County has the second most, with 25. Hawaii County has 15 cases and Kauai County 12.

The locations of 13 of the statewide cases, including two of the new ones, have yet to be released by authorities.

None of the cases are on the islands of Molokai or Lanai, both of which are in Maui County, Anderson said.

The DOH reported that 13 cases, so far, have required hospitalization, and 58 individuals have been released from isolation.

Anderson also announced the first COVID-19 positive result from the state’s community surveillance testing program.

“This is a program that’s been conducted statewide beginning March 1 and has been conducted for the past 30 days,” he said. He called the test “a random survey … including Molokai and Lanai, where we might not otherwise see cases” of individuals with flu-like symptoms where the flu has been ruled out.

He said the positive test among 380 samples “reinforces that there is localized and community spread of the virus, at least on Oahu.”

Gov. David Ige’s imposition of a 14-day self-quarantine on all but those traveling interisland for what is deemed an “essential function” went into effect at 12:01 a.m. today, in the governor’s fourth supplemental emergency proclamation signed Tuesday.

“To be very clear, you should not be traveling unless you have an essential function to perform,” said Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, the state’s adjutant general and director of Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. “Those of you providing and seeking health care is considered an essential function.”

All interisland travelers must fill out an interisland declaration form prior to departure.

“The form will include your name, your residence address, contact telephone number and destination information that includes the purpose of the visit,” Hara said. He said the form can be completed before going to the airport for departure and is to be turned in at a checkpoint prior to screening by the Transportation Security Administration.

Hara added that travelers must wear “appropriate protective gear.”

“We’re asking that they wear primarily a mask … and also to follow all social distancing guidelines,” he said. “When not in performance of the essential function, travelers must self-quarantine and self-monitor in their designated location and place of lodging, if it is not their primary place of residence.”

Hara said travelers cannot go to any public place, visit anyone not a part of the essential function, nor receive visitors. He added that once interisland travelers return home they “revert back to the stay-at-home rule,” which is in effect statewide until April 30.

“Any violation of this rule is a misdemeanor and could result in up to a $5,000 fine and up to one-year imprisonment,” he said.

According to Hara, information in the forms travelers are required to fill out will be compiled and given to county police departments, which are responsible for enforcement of the travel quarantine restrictions.

In addition to health care providers, those performing necessary functions in what have previously been identified as essential industries and essential infrastructure in the governor’s third supplemental emergency proclamation will be allowed to travel interisland under the restrictions Hara enumerated.

Those industries and infrastructure entities include: stores that sell groceries and medicine; food, beverage, cannabis production and agriculture; educational institutions; news media; gas stations and businesses needed for transportation; financial institutions; hardware and supply stores; critical trades, including construction, plumbers, electricians, janitorial, security, engineering; mail, shipping, logistics, delivery and pick-up services; laundry services; restaurants for consumption off premises; business suppliers; transportation providers; home-based care and service; residential facilities and shelters; professional services; child care services for employees exempted by the order; manufacturers and distributors for critical products and industries; hotels and motels; mortuaries and cremation services; and government functions.

Green said there will be other exemptions granted to the governor’s ban on interisland travel, and they can be applied for by emailing covidexemption@hawaii.gov.

“Many people have written me to say, ‘What would be a good reason to travel between the islands? Mostly, it’s health care,” he explained. “If a person is seeking, say, chemotherapy on Oahu, or had some surgery that couldn’t wait, and they’re traveling, that’s the kind of exemption that we’re being very mindful of.

“We’re also making sure that health care providers that often work at multiple facilities can travel between the islands. We still hope that people will adhere to those principled changes, because we’re trying not to spread disease between the islands.”

People traveling between islands for purposes related to medical or health care will not be subject to the self-quarantine so long as they wear appropriate protective gear and follow the social distancing requirements officials are requesting of everyone.

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“I cannot stress enough the importance of my statewide stay-at-home order,” Ige said. “Please continue to practice proper hygiene and social distancing. Stay at home and self-isolate, especially if you are sick.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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