Hawai‘i took two big steps back in its battle with coronavirus on Thursday, as Gov. David Ige announced the reinstatement of the mandatory 14-day interisland quarantine along with a return to restrictions for the island of O‘ahu where the virus has become endemic.
A total of 53 cases of the virus were reported Thursday, but Hawai‘i Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson said officials expect at least 200 cases when a glitch in the Electronic Medical Records (EMR) system is worked out and reporting delays are erased. Anderson added that now, cases are spreading exponentially throughout the state.
“The numbers keep growing, and we are concerned it will get worse before it gets better,” the governor said. “As we reopened our community, people let their guards down. It’s been very disappointing.”
Interisland quarantine restrictions on travel will return Tuesday, Aug. 11. The governor did not provide an expiration date for the order.
He added the quarantine is being reinitiated to stop what would otherwise be the likely spread of the virus in large numbers to neighbor islands, which have been much more successful than O‘ahu at limiting the reach of COVID-19. As of Thursday, the Big Island had reported 122 cases since testing began in late February. Honolulu County reported 51 more cases than Hawai‘i County’s pandemic total on Wednesday alone.
“Interisland travel was an important way for families to keep in touch,” Ige said. “I wish this was not necessary, but the health and safety of our community is our top priority.”
People traveling from neighbor islands to O‘ahu will be exempt from quarantine depending on what their medical needs are and how long they may need to remain on the island.
Those planning interisland trips for any reason may look for updates on airport websites.
The governor did not directly answer questions about what the reinstatement means for his pre-arrival testing program. That initiative is meant to bring trans-Pacific travelers back to the islands with an opportunity to earn quarantine exemption. Ige said an announcement will be coming within the next week as to the program’s status, which is currently set to go into effect on Sept. 1.
Back to the Beginning
Honolulu County will return to several prohibitive restrictions that characterized the statewide lockdown ordered by Gov. Ige in late March, though people will not be confined to their homes and some businesses will be allowed to remain open.
For now, these restrictions remain isolated to O‘ahu, though worsening case counts on neighbor islands could bring about renewed restrictions of their own.
The primary initiative on O‘ahu is to limit large gatherings, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said, with a focus on stricter enforcement. He announced in a press conference Thursday an order that he called Act With Care, Do Not Gather.
O‘ahu’s new restrictions will include the closure of 300 city and county parks, along with all state parks, and the beaches that front them. All campgrounds, botanical gardens, public and private pools, tennis clubs, and team sports have been closed or suspended. The restrictions go into effect on Friday, Aug. 7, and will extend through Sept. 5.
People may still traverse the parks and beaches to get to the water and participate in activities like surfing, swimming, fishing, paddling, and diving, but activities on land will be prohibited. Restroom services will remain open, but no loitering will be allowed.
Bars were already put under a three-week closure in Honolulu County starting Friday, July 31. Restaurants will be allowed to remain open, though cooks will be mandated to wear face coverings. Fitness centers will remain open but classes within them won’t be allowed. Movie theaters, spiritual services, and museums can remain open, but arcades, bowling alleys, and mini-golf courses will be forced to close.
Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard said 160 extra police officers will be deployed under strategic enforcement initiatives and that warnings will no longer be the primary mode of enforcement. Instead, officers will write more citations and effect more arrests.
An enforcement hotline in Honolulu County will open starting Sunday morning at 10 a.m. The intent is to garner community support in reporting violations to ultimately drive dangerous behavior down. The hotline number is 808-723-3900 and the relevant email address is email@example.com.
While COVID-19 typically spreads more easily indoors, Caldwell said the focus is on large outdoor gatherings of dozens or even hundreds of people who have continued to ignore social distancing and face-covering mandates for weeks, leading to the surge in cases. It’s those events, he said, that DOH has linked with the majority of uncontrolled community spread on O‘ahu.
As to what this means for public schools and universities across the island and the state, Gov. Ige was non-commital Thursday. He said he will sit down with the state Department of Education leadership, as well as University leadership, to determine the best way forward and hammer out the details to any change in plans. Public schools were originally scheduled to reopen Aug. 4, a date that was pushed back to Aug. 17 to allow for more training and preparation before a return to in-person instruction.
Numbers Behind the Moves
Anderson said two different predictive models indicate that if cases continue to rise as they have in recent days and weeks, intensive care unit (ICU) capacity on O‘ahu will be exhausted by either Aug. 19 or Aug. 21, respectively.
Currently, 117 people are hospitalized statewide as a result of COVID-19 infection. Of those, 115 are on O‘ahu. A total of 53% of the state’s ICU beds are filled, which will inevitably increase, Anderson said. Approximately 10% of Hawai’i cases of the virus result in hospitalization. Neighbor island projections are better than on O‘ahu, but hospital capacity is also far more fragile.
Anderson said the consistency of coronavirus case reporting in the triple-digits each day for the last week has brought the state to the precipice of a public health crisis.
“It’s much more serious than we projected,” Anderson said. “There will be more deaths and hospitalizations in the weeks to come.”