Hawaiʻi County Mayor Harry Kim says further restrictions are not the answer in stopping a surge of COVID-19 cases and community spread on the Big Island.
Hawaiʻi Island reported 24 new cases Tuesday bringing the total number of active cases to 180 on the Big Island with 11 individuals in the hospital. Three residents at a Hilo veterans home have also died, the first coronavirus-related deaths on the island.
Hawaiʻi Island tallied more than 200 COVID-19 cases in August – a majority of those in the last two weeks. Thirty-seven-year-old Darcy Perez breathed a sigh of relief when he learned he tested negative for COVID-19.
"'Cause I’m the one that always go out. I go to the store, go shopping for my parents. So I’m constantly in public every now and then," he said.
Perez has been caring for his elderly parents in his hometown of Keaukaha.
"Once I heard about Keaukaha, and it was so close to home, I got more scared. I wanted for test myself to keep them safe."
A COVID-19 cluster at a Keaukaha charter school was reported last week with eight staff testing positive.
Ka ʻUmeke Kā’eo Principal Nohea Nahale-a says the cluster is “an unfortunate reality of close-knit communities,” and it reminded the school of the need to be more vigilant.
"We all need to be responsible. I don’t know how many different ways we’ve said it," said Hawaiʻi County Mayor Harry Kim.
Kim says he and his staff break down every single COVID-19 case that shows up on the Big Island, reviewing factors such as age, location, and degree of community spread, to really assess the need for policy interventions.
"People think, 'Oh, you gotta close the beaches, all the parks,' and I would do it if necessary but I won’t do it 'cause the numbers are up," Kim said.
As of Monday, the Big Island reported 151 active cases of COVID-19 with 16 of those individuals hospitalized at the Hilo Medical Center.
"Well, we’re cautiously optimistic that we’re seeing a slight downturn," said Dan Brinkman is the East Hawaiʻi Region CEO for the Hawaiʻi Health Care Systems, which oversees the Hilo hospital.
"We haven’t had as many COVID admissions. We’re hoping that we’re beginning to see the gradual decline. But again it’s too soon to know.
Hawaiʻi County also saw its first coronavirus-related deaths stemming from an outbreak at a Hilo veterans home. Three residents at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans’ Home passed away and another 25 residents and 10 staff tested positive. Brinkman says that number could have been a lot higher.
"One of the veterans home's employees was identified through random testing. I think we have a high degree of certainty that it was picked up from the community, probably from one of these large gatherings.
"If we hadn’t done that random sampling, we would have had the entire facility infected before we knew what was happening."
Last week, Hawaiʻi County tested nearly 1,800 individuals throughout the island. With the additional testing, county health officials are expecting the case numbers to go up as well.