Hawai‘i Department of Health officials continue to avoid identifying coronavirus trigger points at which the state would close schools and its borders to non-quarantined travelers.
Thursday marked Hawai‘i’s worst day in its battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, as 55 cases were reported statewide. The previous high was 42 earlier in July.
“We don’t have specific numbers as triggers,” Health Director Dr. Bruce Anderson said. “It depends on where the cases are and what we’re looking at.”
Widespread, unrelated cases that can’t be connected to a known cluster — like many of those identified on O‘ahu Thursday where 50 cases were reported — is the most troubling trend, Anderson continued.
“We expect to see spikes from time to time,” said Anderson, calling the smalls surges naturally-occurring. “High levels for an extended period of time would be concerning. Fifty-five cases is a high level for Hawai‘i.”
Public schools are set to reopen across the state on Aug. 4. Unions representing all collectively bargained employee positions on school campuses have urged the state to delay the return to in-person instruction indefinitely until training and supplies to ensure the safest possible environments can be procured.
Schools closed in March and remained shut down for the last 46 days of the semester, back when there were fewer cases daily than are reported today. When asked about the inconsistencies in policies juxtaposed to COVID-19 case counts from March to July, Anderson said the schools now have guidelines and plans to navigate infections, which weren’t available at the start of the outbreak in Hawai‘i.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park added that more is known about the virus today, and that hospitals and healthcare professionals are more equipped with medical and testing supplies than they were four months ago.
Hawai‘i continues to re-evaluate its virus metrics, Anderson said, relying heavily on the incidence of positive tests per tests administered. The state has held fast at a 1% rate of positive results for much of the pandemic, though Anderson said that number has crept closer to 2% in recent days.
The figure’s ascension to double-digits would indicate far-reaching community spread and could prove the main catalyst for reimplementing social and economic restrictions, something Anderson mentioned as a possibility Thursday if people don’t start paying more attention to social distancing and face-covering guidelines.
This will remain especially important in the coming days as Hurricane Douglas, a Category 3 hurricane as of Thursday, creeps on a trajectory toward the islands. It could make landfall Sunday, a hypothetical situation Anderson described as a “perfect storm” when combined with the daily threat of COVID-19.