Mayor Harry Kim said the increase in coronavirus cases on Hawaii Island over the past few weeks doesn’t justify what he called a “shutdown” like the one mandated by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell for Oahu.
“What we stated from the beginning was we will not be reactionary just in regards to numbers,” Kim said Wednesday. “We have to show the public why change is going to be made. And in reviewing all the numbers of who got infected, where they got infected, and our best information on tracing, we find the … large groupings in Hilo were the cause of it spreading.
“We reviewed … every case and we saw no connection to churches, no connections in regards to restaurants, and those kinds of things.”
The state Department of Health reported 215 new cases of COVID-19 statewide on Wednesday, including 201 new cases on Oahu and 11 new cases in Hawaii County. That brings the statewide number of coronavirus cases in Hawaii since the pandemic began to 6,984, with Oahu at 6,382 cases and the Big Island at 220 cases.
The triple-digit daily numbers on Oahu caused Caldwell, with the permission of Gov. David Ige, to approve a “stay-at-home, work-at-home order” for the City and County of Honolulu for the next two weeks, starting at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.
Caldwell said during Tuesday new conference in Honolulu he’s “hopeful” that the numbers of cases will decline.
“And on top of the other actions that we’ve taken … whether it be closing of bars, closing down of large gathering spaces in parks and other places, and no gatherings (of) more than five … hopefully, we’ll see the numbers decline to a level where we can manage our contact tracing and everything else we need to do,” Caldwell said, adding if numbers of new cases don’t decline, the shutdown could be extended.
Under the new rules on Oahu, gyms and dine-in restaurants will be closed. Religious services will be allowed to continue. Essential businesses such as grocery stores, banks and child care facilities can remain open. Most schools have been providing online instruction.
Ige said he and Caldwell “both agree that reinstituting and reimplementing a stay-at-home order is what Oahu needs at this time.”
“I would want to reaffirm that this does not impact the neighbor islands,” Ige said.
Kim on Friday reduced the numbers of people allowed to gather in one place — with directives to social distance and wear face masks — to 10, whether indoors or outdoors on the Big Island. A previous emergency rule allowed outdoor gatherings of up to 100 and indoor gatherings of up to 50.
“The reason it’s dropped to 10 is it’s an easier thing to enforce than a blanket ‘all beaches are closed’ and all of that, which I don’t think anybody wanted,” Kim said. “We didn’t want to make the small businesses suffer any more than they have.”
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams joined Caldwell and Ige at Tuesday’s news conference. He noted Hawaii’s Pacific Islander and Filipino communities have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.
Pacific Islanders make up just 4% of the population but about 30% of positive cases, Adams said, and described the statistic as “astounding.”
For a while, Hawaii’s positive testing rate was less than 5%, but it’s now reaching 10%, Adams said.
“That means you’re at a turning point,” he said. “That means things could get really bad.”
More contact tracers will be hired, and a hotel will be used for people who test positive or are in close contact with someone who tested positive and need a place to quarantine, according to Caldwell.
With help from the federal government, Oahu officials will conduct mass testing across the island with the goal of testing 5,000 people daily for two weeks for a total of 70,000 tests, Caldwell said.
The tests will be free, and no symptoms, health insurance or doctor referral will be needed to get a test, Honolulu Fire Chief Manuel Neves said.
According to Adams, the tests will be sent to mainland labs with a turnaround time of two to three days and won’t impact testing abilities in state.
On the Big Island, Premier Medical Group will again provide free COVID-19 testing Thursday at Kawananakoa Gym at 156 Baker Ave. in the Keaukaha neighborhood of Hilo, as it did on Monday.
The drive-through testing will take place between 9 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.
No insurance is necessary to be tested, but those being tested are asked to bring their insurance cards if they have one, to wear a face covering at all times, and to observe social distancing.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.