Even as COVID-19 cases on the Big Island rise, Mayor Harry Kim said he has no plans to return the island to lockdown.
The state Department of Health reported 24 new coronavirus cases on the island Monday, bringing the county total to 364, but Kim said shutting down nonessential businesses — as the county did during the early days of the pandemic — would do more harm than good.
“I really believe that reactionary policies like that will cause more problems in the long run,” the mayor said. “For restaurants, bars and small establishments, most of them are following our policies, so it doesn’t make sense to punish them. And that’s what that is, it’s punishment.”
On Oahu, Gov. David Ige said that island’s current two-week shutdown of nonessential businesses including gyms, dine-in restaurants and hair salons, which took effect last week, was largely implemented to avoid overwhelming the island’s health infrastructure.
Kim also pointed out that extreme preventative measures such as shutting down businesses will do nothing to curb the development of currently existing virus clusters like the one at Yukio Okutsu State Veteran’s Home in Hilo, where 28 residents and nine employees have tested positive for coronavirus.
“No new rules can help Yukio Okutsu at this point,” Kim said.
Instead, Kim said the county is putting its faith in concentrated testing initiatives such as the one last week that included a pair of mass public tests in Keaukaha and, during the weekend, a testing site at Prince Kuhio Plaza and another in Waikoloa. The latter two, Kim said, conducted tests of more than 4,000 people, and more testing efforts are being planned for Puna as well.
Ige said Hawaii County’s aggressive testing measures likely contributed to a higher number of reported cases, allowing the county to better understand the spread of the infection.
The county also stepped up enforcement on individuals flouting social distancing guidelines, Kim said.
The mayor highlighted a trio of arrests during the weekend of people who failed to wear face masks in public and said police will continue to be responsive to reports of social gatherings of more than 10 people.
Related to enforcement, Kim said he is close to announcing a decision regarding further gathering restrictions during the Labor Day weekend, adding that he sent a proposal to Ige on Monday.
Email Michael Brestovansky at email@example.com.