Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Community Spread of COVID-19 Confirmed in Hawai‘i

March 20, 2020, 2:33 PM HST
* Updated March 20, 2:34 PM
Listen to this Article
3 minutes
Loading Audio...
A
A
A

Photo courtesy Joe Holt.

Community spread of COVID-19 has been confirmed in Hawai‘i.

Another 11 presumptive positive tests came through Friday, bringing the total in the state to 37. Of the 11 new cases, two tested positive despite having no red flag travel history or coming into close contact with people with red flag travel history. The other 35 cases were all travel-related, health officials said.

Both cases of community spread occurred on O‘ahu. The people involved were not associated with one another, meaning they were infected by separate community sources.

“We’ve been talking about community spread. It’s beginning. It’s starting,” Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson said. “We now have COVID 19 circulating to at least some extent in our community.”

There’s a legitimate chance community spread has been occurring for days or even weeks, but the state’s testing capability was severely limited up until just a few days ago. With three private labs now testing, Hawai‘i’s testing capacity has jumped from dozens to thousands.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW AD

Subsequently, the state has seen double-digit positive results for COVID-19 on consecutive days. The illumination provided by expanded testing is evidence the public needs to practice precautionary health measures with more discipline, Anderson said.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW AD

“It’s time to step up and take what we’re recommending seriously,” he continued.

That includes social distancing, avoiding large crowds and extensive handwashing, among other practices.

State Epidemiologist, Dr. Sarah Park, said that’s especially true for young people and juveniles. Recent studies have shown that people under the age of 70 are not as impervious to COVID-19 as previously thought. As such, one of Friday’s 11 new cases was a child.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW AD

“Take that as a reminder anyone can be infected,” Park said.

In light of confirmed community spread, Anderson said health officials and the governor are having serious discussions about taking more stringent measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, which they expect will get considerably worse before it gets better no matter what actions are taken.

The state is now “seriously considering” restricting travel to Hawai‘i and a mandatory 14-day, self-quarantine period for every resident returning to the islands.

Anderson said that as of Friday, officials are not considering a mandatory 15-day lockdown of every person in the state, as was requested of Gov. Ige by Hawai‘i Speaker of the House Scott Saiki.

“I do not believe a lockdown is appropriate at this time,” Anderson said. “The question is how long are you going to be locking people down? This is not a two or three-week situation. It’ll be months. … A lockdown would imply it’s going to be (more) temporary.”

However, Anderson didn’t rule the potential of more draconian measures — including a mandatory, statewide lockdown — if people don’t start taking social distancing practices more seriously.

“A lot is going to depend on how seriously people take this situation,” Anderson continued. “If people keep going to the beach and getting together as they have been … if we can’t control gatherings and restaurants aren’t going to be closing … then we will have no choice but to go down that road.”

Officials will be monitoring public behavior across all islands closely in the coming days. Anderson said he didn’t believe it would take more than the weekend to figure out if state and county recommendations and mandates are working effectively, or if more will need to be done.

The fewer people who heed health advice means more strain on the hospital system, which Park said is already reporting burn rates that will see some hospitals run out of personal protective equipment (PPEs) within two weeks to one month.

Some allotment of PPEs from a national stockpile will be made available to Hawai‘i as they are required, Anderson said, and the Hawai‘i Hospital Association has organized a network of supply caches to supplement shortages during periods of infectious disease.

However, shortages are popping up nationally and Hawai‘i won’t likely remain immune to them. Thus, actions like canceling elective surgeries are likely in the future to conserve resources.

Anderson noted it could be as long as six months before the public health situation begins to calm down again and supply pressures ease off.

Comments

This comments section is a public community forum for the purpose of free expression. Although Big Island Now encourages respectful communication only, some content may be considered offensive. Please view at your own discretion. View Comments

Newsletters

Get a quick summary of what’s happening on the Big Island with our daily & weekly email of news highlights.