Ige extends emergency order, says he’s still concerned about hospital capacities

  • IGE

Gov. David Ige extended his pandemic emergency order through November as the latest COVID-19 surge gradually weakens.

Ige on Friday said his latest emergency proclamation includes no significant changes to the state’s various pandemic policies. The Safe Travels program, mask mandates, gathering-size limits and extension of driver’s license expiration dates remain unchanged.

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Ige said the proclamation also clarifies an existing provision that employers are not required to pay for COVID testing for employees who choose to be regularly tested in lieu of being vaccinated. The proclamation also restores civil service recruitment requirements that had been suspended by the federal government earlier in the pandemic.

“We are all working very hard to learn to live with COVID,” Ige said during a Friday news conference. “If we all remain vigilant — and it’s important that we continue to be vigilant in the fight against COVID, to do the things that we know work: wear our masks, stay home when we’re sick, keep our children home when they’re sick, wash your hands and use hand sanitizer — we know we can have much better holidays as the holiday seasons approach.”

Ige did not repeat, but did not rescind, a public request he made in August urging travelers to postpone trips to the state.

Although the proclamation does not impact travel restrictions, he said he is continuing to discuss with Mayor Mitch Roth a possible policy that would publicly list the identities of travelers who choose to quarantine upon arrival instead of providing proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test taken within three days of arrival.

State Attorney General Clare Connors currently has concerns that the program could run afoul of privacy laws, and the policy remains under consideration, Ige said.

State Health Director Libby Char said the COVID-19 situation is improving in Hawaii, but it is still too early to let our guards down.

“We saw Delta variant COVID cases increase every week for eight weeks,” Char said. “In the last two weeks, the Department of Health investigated 46 clusters totaling nearly 1,300 people — people getting infected and then spreading the infection to coworkers or family members. In the month of September, almost 200 of our friends, family and neighbors died of COVID-19.”

Char said it will take several more weeks before the surge lessens to a rate the state can manage with its own resources. About 650 nurses and other health care workers that were brought in from the mainland to assist Hawaii’s overburdened hospitals remain on the job.

Ige reiterated that there is no longer any concrete point at which the state can safely drop COVID-19 restrictions. Previously, Ige had announced that all restrictions would be dropped when the state reached a vaccination rate of 70%. Now, with the statewide rate at 68% but the Delta variant still rampant, Ige said there is no longer a single metric that can be used to determine when to lift restrictions.

Ige added that he remains concerned about hospital capacity throughout the state.

“We’re only a little over completely full, versus way over completely full, which is certainly an improvement for us,” said Hilo Medical Center CEO Dan Brinkman during a separate livestreamed interview Friday.

Brinkman said HMC’s COVID-19 patients typically have very long lengths of stay.

“We call them ‘long-haulers,’ where they’re staying 20-30 days,” he said. “Some of them recover, but unfortunately we see a number that haven’t.

“We went through a period where we had 22 ICU patients — that’s double our capacity — but 10 of those were long-haul COVID patients,” Brinkman went on. “I don’t want to be defeatist or morbid, but the majority of those individuals have passed away over the past few weeks.”

On the other hand, Brinkman said the danger of the Delta variant has had some positive impacts.

“Speaking bluntly, Delta scared a lot of people, and our hospitals being full also encouraged people on the sidelines to get vaccinated,” Brinkman said, adding that vaccine clinics reported an uptick in first vaccine doses administered as the Delta surge worsened.

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Char said the state administered its 2 millionth vaccine dose last week.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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