Despite a record-high 355 new COVID-19 cases reported Thursday, Gov. David Ige stopped short of delaying a plan to allow out-of-state travelers with a negative COVID-19 test to arrive in Hawaii on Sept. 1 without being subject to a 14-day quarantine.
During an afternoon media conference, Ige said he and his administration “continue to look at the health care determinants.”
“As we have said from the very beginning, health care capacity and the capacity in our hospitals is one fundamental metric that we are monitoring,” Ige said. “We would want to see the number of cases drop, which would then reduce the stress on the hospital facilities.
“With the case count increasing the way it has, it would be very difficult to implement and start the pre-travel testing program on Sept. 1, but we have not made that decision. We do want to see another few days of data to see what the impact of increased restrictions have been on Oahu. And we continue to work and speak with the hospitals … .”
The count also included two deaths, both on Oahu, making the statewide death toll 40.
Four new coronavirus cases were reported Thursday in Hawaii County, bringing the Big Island’s reported case total to 139 since the start of the pandemic.
Thursday marked the 20th week since the state’s mandatory 14-day self-quarantine started for all passengers arriving in Hawaii from out of state.
According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, on Wednesday, 2,023 people arrived in the state, with 93 arriving in Kona — 35 visitors and 41 returning residents.
The sharp increase in Hawaii’s overall case count comes as the coronavirus has been rapidly spreading on Oahu, the state’s population center. The previous daily record was 231 new cases, reported Saturday.
“Clearly, we are headed in the wrong direction. The prevalence of COVID-19 is expanding here in our community,” Ige said.
Ige said cases are spreading as people shared lunch in workplace break rooms or spoke to each other at office water coolers. He said these types of face-to-face interactions must stop in order to bring the disease under control.
He warned he will have to reimpose more restrictions, particularly on Oahu, if the situation doesn’t improve.
“This could include going back to stay-at-home orders or other restrictive measures … to stem the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases,” he said. “… I know that going backwards will cause further harm to our economy, but we have always said the health and safety of our community will be the highest priority.”
With the overwhelming majority of the new coronavirus cases occurring on Oahu, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, after consulting with Ige, last week closed parks on the island, restricted beach access except for individuals actually using the water, placed further limitations on bars and brought back restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people.
The 14-quarantine on interisland travelers arriving at neighbor island airports was reinstituted by Ige on Tuesday, although neighbor island residents are allowed to visit Oahu without quarantining until they return, with some exceptions.
Asked if tighter restrictions are needed for the neighbor islands as well, Ige said he met with all three neighbor island mayors and “discuss(ed) further actions.”
“The neighbor island mayors believe … that the virus prevalence is not as high on the neighbor islands,” he said. “So they would want the ability to continue where they’re at. They are evaluating further restrictions, but other than … the interisland travel quarantine, they would like to keep conditions where they are.
“And we continue to work together to decide whether further restrictions would be required.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.