The Latest: 124 New Cases; Rollbacks Possible As New Cases Surge; Caldwell Rethinks Mask Mandate

Jul 30, 2020

Updated: 7/30/2020, 12:02 p.m.

Hawaii had another record-setting day today with 124 new cases of COVID-19, the state Department of Health reported. That overtakes yesterday's record of 109 new COVID-19 cases. As has been the pattern, most of today's new cases were on Oahu.

The state's total number of COVID-19 cases now stands at 1,989 cases. Out of that total, 1,637 cases are on Oahu, 167 in Maui County, 115 in Hawaii County, and 47 in Kauai County. One case was transferred from Hawaii Island to Oahu based on updated information.

 

There have been 23 residents diagnosed outside of the state, 177 people hospitalized and 26 deaths.

The record spikes of over 100 new COVID-19 cases are causing Gov. David Ige to consider rolling back Hawaii’s reopening. He says counties should look at re-closing bars, limiting gatherings to 10 or fewer people and restricting groups in parks with prohibitions on tents.

Yesterday’s 109 new cases was partially the result of a backlog in processing tests due to Hurricane Douglas.

But the state health department says the rate of positive results seen in recent tests has also gone up -- from 2 percent to 6 percent.

"In light of this new surge in cases, I am proposing to the counties, and working with all of the mayors, to reinstate some of the measures that we've relaxed over the last few weeks," the governor said. "First, we were seeking to limit social gatherings to 10 or fewer -- Kauai has already taken this action.

"We continue to say and know that the Department of Education, the University of Hawaii and universities are excepted from these gathering limitations because of the controlled environment and cohorting and safe practices that are being implemented in these organizations. Second, I've asked all the mayors to relook at the closing of bars."

The governor said the counties should also review restricting social gatherings at parks and beaches.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green says hospitalizations due to COVID-19 have also increased. He says there are currently 61 hospitalized individuals.

At least one hospital is feeling the surge in cases. Dr. Rick Bruno is the vice president of patient care at Queen’s Health Systems.

"We have seen an increase in hospitalizations over the past five days, consistent with the uptick we've seen in the community over the past several weeks," he said. "At this point, Queen's is -- as the rest of the community is -- taking this extremely seriously and our highest priority obviously is ensuring the safety of our patients, the safety of our staff, the safety of our clinicians. 

"We also need to ensure that we have the ability to provide access for both the COVID-19 patients, but also all the other patients that we provide care for."

He said if cases keep increasing, Queen’s has a plan to expand its capacity to care for COVID cases.

Queen’s could again scale back elective surgeries to make room for COVID-19 patients. That’s a decision that would be based on numbers of cases in the community, testing capacity, occupancy rates and supply levels.

But the hospital would not completely stop elective surgeries, but instead thoughtfully prioritize its procedures, he said.

--HPR's Ashley Mizuo

Caldwell rethinking proposal to mandate face coverings in public

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is reconsidering his proposal to require face coverings be worn at all times in public.

Caldwell earlier this week announced he was considering several requests to Gov. David Ige to address Oahu’s spike in coronavirus cases.

The mayor said yesterday he discussed his proposal on face masks with the state health department and his medical advisory panel. Both told him there is no medical justification to require wearing a mask while outside when physically distanced.

"I'm willing to consider and step back. It doesn’t mean we may not go forward with stronger mandates, depending on what we see, because what I don’t want to do is – I don’t want to go back to March," the mayor said. "I don’t want to reinstitute a stay-at-home, work-at-home order to where no one is out anywhere."

"So are there things I can do as a mayor, using tools in the toolbox, bright lines that will keep us from going all the way back to where we started. And for me, wearing a face covering and exercising, and stopping working so hard at times, is acceptable for me. But I was advised that perhaps it was too extreme at this point."

Caldwell said the governor and mayors have also talked about prohibiting tents in parks. Tents have concerned officials because people gathering in them have not been wearing face masks.

The mayor has also asked to close Honolulu bars for three weeks following clusters of COVID-19 at two establishments. The state health department and the governor back the proposal but formal approval is pending.

Caldwell also said there has been no evidence of COVID-19 cases from the city's one-time Chinatown Open Streets event and the recurring Waikiki Open Streets, but the event will no longer be held because of the surge in infections.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

Green and Caldwell with gubernatorial ambitions spar in COVID background

As state and local officials struggle with a growing number of COVID-19 cases, some have wondered if political rivalry is causing any distractions.

Both Lt. Gov. Josh Green and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell may be future candidates for the governor’s office.

 

The two have sometimes exchanged jabs related to policies during the pandemic.

 

HPR spoke about the situation with political analyst Neal Milner, who taught political science at the University of Hawaii for 40 years.

 

Milner says politics is not interfering with policy. But he says some of the background noise could be cut down.

 

“If you had a more forceful governor, he would be in a better position to tell them to shut up. The hard questions really are how long can we postpone opening up things, and what do we do if things continue to get worse," said Milner. "And I think that increases the sniping."

 

He adds: "I don’t think this is about politicians trying to score points. I think what they’re worried about is that persuasion has reached its limits. That even in a place like this which was relatively compliant, you don’t have to look at the statistics -- you just drive around the island and see how people are behaving. And you see they are behaving in a way that increases risk.”

 

Neal Milner also helped found the University of Hawaii’s Program on Conflict Resolution and is a regular contributor to HPR’s program The Conversation.

--HPR's Bill Dorman

Census workers knocking on doors today

U.S. Census workers will be visiting neighborhoods across the state today to help residents complete the 2020 survey, if they haven’t done it yet.

The state's 58.8% rate of responding to the census is lower than the national average of 62.7%. Oahu's response rate of 64.6% is in line with the national average, but the Neighbor Islands are trailing. 

Hawaii Island's response rate is 45.4%, Maui County at 49%, and Kauai County at 50.2%.

About 2,000 workers will be wearing I.D. badges with their names, photos and the Commerce Department watermark when they call on residents. 

Census workers won’t ask for Social Security numbers, citizenship status or bank information. They’ll ask for census information, such as age, gender and household information.

Sharlette Poe is a partnership specialist with the Census Bureau. She says the census is especially important in determining federal resources for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. 

“This is an opportunity or chance for all people, especially our Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders, to really influence and inform the resources that can help us. Whether it's help us recover, whether it's to help us to grow into prosperity -- if we take this opportunity to say, I am here, and I exist, right?

"This is what the census is -- it's a population and household count. We tell them we are here, how many of us are here, and this is what we need.”

Response to the U.S. Census was supposed to close tomorrow, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the deadline has been pushed to Oct. 31. 

Those with questions about the census in Hawaii, can visit census.hawaii.gov

--HPR's Amy Nakamura

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story contained an error in the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19. The number is 177.

This is a developing story. Please check back for upates. Editor's note: We’d like to hear how you’re coping with the latest COVID-19 developments and the state's phased reopening. You can call our talkback line at 808-792-8217. Or e-mail us at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.