State Won’t Commit to Ending Quarantine as Scheduled
Hawai‘i residents could be looking at more mandatory time indoors beyond the end of the month.
Gov. David Ige did not commit one way or the other Monday as to whether his shelter-in-place and travel quarantine orders would be lifted as scheduled on April 30, but he did lay the groundwork for a potential extension of the mandates.
“We are not there yet,” Ige said of state readiness to let people get back to some sense of normal life. “We are reviewing our status and looking at all possibilities.”
“I want to assure you that any decisions we make will be based on facts, science and advice from (our healthcare advisers).”
Phase 1 of the reopening of society, which has yet to be ironed out completely, requires a 14-day period in positive COVID-19 case reductions. Aside from a few spikes connected to case clusters at Maui Memorial Medical Center followed by three McDonald’s locations in Kailua-Kona — which account for 42 and 30 known cases, respectively — the number of new cases has remained stable and low.
Minus a spike in new cases related to the McDonald’s cluster a few days ago, which brought the statewide up by 21 cases that day, Hawai‘i has not registered more than 13 new cases on any individual day in over a week.
Only six new cases were reported Sunday and only four on Monday, including zero on O‘ahu and Kaua‘i.
“That is actually something to be astounded by,” Lieutenant Governor Josh Green said of Monday’s daily total for Honolulu County.
Over a weeklong period in March, Hawai‘i reported the fewest number of cases per 100,000 residents and the lowest death toll per 100,000 residents in the United States.
The data, officials said at a press conference Monday, shows that social distancing is working. Green suggested that Ige’s social distancing policies and community compliance with them has saved thousands of lives in Hawai‘i and stemmed any surge.
Though the virus curve is sufficiently flattening, Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson joined Ige and Green in their sentiment that reopening too early will undo some of what has been accomplished and may simply lead to another lockdown in the near future.
To begin reopening, the state needs the capability to incorporate rapid contact-testing — the ability to confirm a positive case and isolate it, while also contacting, testing and quarantining anyone with whom the positive case may have had close contact, even if that person is asymptomatic.
This will require more tests and faster turnaround times, as well as more DOH investigators. Thirty or so have been transferred to manage cluster case investigations, Anderson said.
He added that the state will also need a robust community surveillance program to monitor group health across all islands. Likely, travelers will continue to come to Hawai‘i, he said, and cases will continue to pop up because of that.
“Contact-tracing allowing for the return of visitors is a work in progress,” Anderson continued. ” We need to be resilient to the disease when it does come.”
Green said talks about the return of tourism in force to Hawai‘i have been pushed down the road for the time being.
“Plans are a dime a dozen,” he said. “It really boils down completely to how safe we are from seeing significant spread.”
Federal criteria for reopening a state says there should be a 14-day decline in coronavirus cases, symptoms that could represent unidentified COVID-19 infection in a population should also be in decline statewide for a two-week period, and hospital capacity must be adequate to handle a surge as well as have the testing capability to regularly screen employees.
The governor said that the state’s criteria for reopening will be published within a few days.
Currently, Hawai‘i’s hospital capacity is strong enough to handle a surge, based on numbers provided regularly by Green. Positive coronavirus case counts are pressing lower daily, aside from the two cluster spikes on the Big Island and Maui.
Despite those favorable terms, the state’s stance continues to be one of caution and pragmatism.
“We may look at relaxing restrictions and if we see a spike in the cases, then we would look at reenacting some of those restrictions,” Ige said. “This is a long-term challenge.”