The state Department of Health on Friday reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Hawaii Island, the largest number reported in the county since late January.
“We’re getting cases on both side of the island,” Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said.
He did not identify specific communities in which the cases have been found, but said, “When I say east and west, (I mean) the whole area.”
As of Friday, 13 cases have been reported in Hilo over the prior 14 days, while 25 have been reported in Kailua-Kona during the same time period.
Hawaii County had a 1.6% test positivity rate, compared to a 1.2% positivity rate statewide.
Magno said DOH investigations have identified cases among several work- and social-related groups.
“It just shows us people are getting together,” he said. “They need to be careful.”
Magno said when cases spread through the community, they typically stem from residents returning from travel.
“Keep in mind, we’re still in the process of getting more people vaccinated,” he said. “The DOH just opened it up to a little bit more of the population, but still in the meantime, people need to follow the preventative measures, and follow everything we’ve done so far to keep our numbers low and let more vaccines happen so more of the population is protected. I think we’ll be in a better place in a couple months.”
Magno said the uptick in numbers isn’t worrisome, and he understands the number of cases during a pandemic will go up and down. It would, however, be alarming if the numbers don’t decline.
“It alerts us that it’s out there,” he said. “But we understand we’ve been way higher than this. We’ve seen this number before, and we’ve addressed those populations that are maybe having high infection rates, and we get the numbers down. We’ll do the same thing again.”
When asked whether community members might be lowering their guards because of ongoing vaccination efforts or fatigue from the yearlong pandemic, Magno said it’s likely a little of each.
“We’ve got to remember, even though you’ve been vaccinated, you’ve still got to protect yourself and others,” he said. “And I know we’ve been at it for a year, it is tiresome. But instead of being tiresome, (preventative measures) should be habit already. We should be able to follow (the guidelines) easy.”
Gov. David Ige this week approved COVID-19 emergency rule amendments for the Big Island, signed into effect Monday by Mayor Mitch Roth, which ease certain restrictions.
Among others measures, the amendments increase the permitted size of outdoor gatherings as well as nonorganized pick-up sports games limits from 10 to 25 and opens more Parks and Recreation facilities.
“At this time, we do not believe that the rise in numbers is related to our recent relaxing of restrictions, as the slight elevation began to occur prior to the new rules taking effect,” Roth’s spokesman Cyrus Johnasen told the Tribune-Herald in an email. “This said, we have no plans to change any current mandates, though we are monitoring the numbers very closely. I would also like to add that hospitalization related to COVID-19 remains very low (two total), and we currently have no patients on ventilators as a result of the virus.”
Mandates requiring face coverings, distancing of at least six feet and limiting gatherings sizes to no more than 10 people inside and 25 people outside remain in place for Hawaii Island.
Statewide, 66 new COVID-19 cases were reported Friday by the DOH.
Email Stephanie Salmons at email@example.com.