Mayor Says Big Island Won’t Lockdown Amid COVID-19 Surge
O‘ahu residents are on lockdown for the next two weeks, but Big Islanders won’t be joining them.
Hawai‘i County Mayor Harry Kim told Big Island Now on Friday that the new restrictions he planned to implement — limits on indoor and outdoor gathering sizes to 10 people — have been implemented, and there are no plans to add more.
His decision comes on the heels of record-setting numbers announced Friday, including 26 new positive COVID-19 patients and 117 active cases islandwide.
“We had a long discussion on new restrictions. Some people wanted us to do a lockdown like O‘ahu,” Kim said. “My response was we will not do that.”
Kim explained his reasoning, saying that recent testing focused in East Hawai‘i where the vast majority of new coronavirus cases have been reported, showed a positive test rate of between 4% and 5%. Anything below the 5% threshold is still considered manageable, according to national health guidelines.
Secondly, the increase in positive test results correlates with an increase in testing, specifically in Keaukaha, where large gatherings have been linked to the Big Island’s surge. Because of these testing efforts and others to come in Hilo and the surrounding areas, such as Puna, the mayor expects positive test results may remain high for several days.
“We are going into communities and encouraging everyone to get tested,” Kim said. “The goal is to identify who is positive and isolate them to stop the spreading.”
Third, several Big Island Districts are either clear of the virus or close to clear. Kim noted specifically that North Kohala, South Kona, and Ka‘ū are “very clean districts.”
And finally, Kim said rule changes won’t matter unless they are strongly enforced. As such, he spoke with Hawai‘i County Police Friday, who have agreed to increase enforcement islandwide.
“We have shifted resources toward the enforcement and have three shifts of officers working island-wide specifically to enforce Mayor Kim’s Emergency Rule Number 11” Captain Reed Mahuna said in a press release regarding the enforcement effort. “Police will be focusing on education and enforcement, but we need the public’s cooperation in adhering to Mayor Kim’s rule and (putting) safety first.”
Anyone not observing the following rules is subject to a fine of up to $5,000 or up to one-year imprisonment:
- You must wear a face mask (with some exceptions) in public settings.
- You must stay home if you are sick with COVID-19 symptoms as identified by the CDC.
- Gatherings of only up to 10 non-household members are permitted, whether indoors or outdoors, with social distancing and masks still required.
- The 14-day mandatory quarantine continues to be in effect for those traveling to Hawai‘i Island (subject to a few exceptions).
“If we do that and observe social distancing, we can do this,” Kim reiterated. “I don’t care what the rules are. If the public doesn’t follow the policies, no matter what we do, it won’t make a difference.”
Arrests will only be effected for people who continue refusing to comply after being given directives by police who observe them breaking COVID-19 rules. Citations will be issued more frequently and there will be more police power on the ground.
No police will be diverted from other responsibilities, Kim said. Rather, the county will authorize the use of overtime to keep more officers on shift at any given time. This is possible due to coronavirus-related funding afforded the Big Island via the federal CARES Act.
Inspections of restaurants and bars will also be on the uptick, as well as programs that help supply local businesses with disinfectant materials. The Korner Pocket in Kealakekua earlier this week became the first establishment on the Big Island to receive a red placard from the state Department of Health’s Food Safety Branch for violating COVID-19 protocols.
“I want inspectors out before the sun comes out,” Kim said.
Part of the problem with getting compliance, Kim said, is that Hawai‘i County has been in such good shape from the perspective of managing the virus for such a long time. Because of that, it’s been difficult to get residents to understand the COVID-19 situation is now very serious on the island.
There were 15 people hospitalized with COVID-19 infections at Hilo Medical Center as of Friday morning, according to Hawai‘i County Civil Defense. Three of those patients are in the intensive care unit (ICU), though none of them are currently on ventilator support. No one was hospitalized at Kona Community Hospital as of Friday afternoon.