COVID-19 Cases Hit 7, Schools Close, Businesses Asked to Allow Work From Home
Gov. David Ige at a press conference Sunday afternoon confirmed two major developments in the COVID-19 global pandemic as it relates specifically to Hawai‘i — that a seventh case has been confirmed and that schools statewide will remain closed through the end of March.
Big Island Now was first to report Sunday that schools across all islands would shut their doors until at least March 30, extending the Spring Break holiday by at least one week. The report was based on information provided by Rep. Nicole Lowen, of Kailua-Kona.
“The current plan is for students to return to school on March 30. Obviously, that is subject to change,” Ige said. “At this time, school leadership will be preparing plans to implement social distancing.”
Spring Break begins Monday, March 16, for schools across Hawai‘i. The bare minimum of at least an extra week off is a tactic the state is employing to buy time for evaluation of how schools can conduct classes and dictate person-to-person interaction with more caution.
“Virtually everything they do will be evaluated so we can implement social distancing activities that will allow us to keep our schools safe,” Ige said. “We know how important public schools (are) to our community. … We know there is tremendous impact when schools close.”
The state will try and help parents who will face an extra burden due to school cancellations, though Ige admitted that as of Sunday the state had “no specific plan.”
Schools will potentially close on a case-by-case basis after the statewide closure is lifted based on how the spread of COVID-19 tracks throughout each community, Ige continued.
And while the details officials provided Sunday on the new cases of COVID-19 in Hawai‘i indicate there has not yet been community spread, several — including Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and DOH Director Bruce Anderson — acknowledged such spread is an inevitability.
Efforts should be to “…mitigate that spread and end this sooner than would otherwise be the case,” Caldwell said.
The goal, Ige added, is to make sure when community spread does occur that it doesn’t impact a mass of residents in a single event.
Reporters at the press conference Sunday inquired as to how travel restrictions might help the state achieve that goal, including closing all outside travel to the Hawaiian Islands, which ushers in thousands of people daily.
“I don’t have the authority to ban travel to the state of Hawai‘i,” Ige said. “It is about everyone in our community being responsible, travelers included. If you’re ill, stay home.”
Airlines are looking at not allowing passengers to board who are sick, but no matter the efforts, officials say COVID-19 is on its way in greater numbers than the state has seen to this point.
“Closing borders won’t keep us from having to deal with it eventually here,” Anderson added.
The state is also taking other measures beyond keeping students out of classrooms for the time being to help curb community spread of the virus.
Ige said he’s instructed department heads across his administration to allow as many employees as possible to work from home. It’s a move he hopes the private sector will adopt as well.
“All businesses should be doing this,” Ige said. “If employees can work from home, that would be preferable.”
He added he believes the state’s infrastructure is sound enough to support the broadband activity such action would necessitate.
The governor also indicated he would be activating portions of the Hawai‘i National Guard as appropriate, which employs doctors, nurses, medical teams and infrastructure planners/implementers.
Details of new COVID-19 cases
On Saturday morning, there were two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Hawai‘i. As of Sunday afternoon, there are seven.
Clinical Labs of Hawai‘i reported three additional positives Sunday, Ige said. Two are residents of the state, both situated on O‘ahu, while one is a Canadian national who serves as a flight attendant with Air Canada. That person is currently in isolation on Maui.
The first case involves an O‘ahu resident who traveled to Colorado from Feb. 29 to March 7, 2020. Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist, said based on the evidence gathered the person was infected during that trip and not before or after while located in Hawai‘i.
A child in that person’s home was also tested after displaying symptoms of respiratory disease. However, the specimen taken from the child was negative for COVID-19. The preschool-aged student will not attend school until the mandatory quarantine period is over, Ige said.
The second case involves a flight attendant on Maui. The individual in question began to present with respiratory symptoms March 9, having flown their last flight on March 8. The flight attendant was found to have been exposed on March 4 to a person who later tested positive for the virus in Germany. The specimen collected by health officials from the flight attendant on March 11 tested positive for COVID-19.
The flight attendant self-isolated at Royal Lahaina Resort on Maui while the testing was completed. After confirming the positive test, the individual was transferred by AMR to isolation at a Lahaina clinic.
The third new case, like the first, was O‘ahu-based. A person returned from a family trip to Florida on March 8 and presented with a cough, but no fever, on March 9. A specimen was tested on March 10 and returned a positive result. The person is quarantined in a bedroom at their home with access to a private bathroom. Family members living in the same house have been advised by health officials to remain in home-quarantine.
Ige said the state is working to track the movements of the three individuals across the previous few weeks. Investigators will attempt to make contact with those who’ve come into prolonged contact with the three individuals who tested positive for COVID-19.
Park said that the people involved in the state’s initial two cases remain hospitalized. One is recovering, and health professionals hope to release that person from isolation soon. The other remains in critical condition.