Lt. Gov. urges Hawaii to prepare for more cases following confirmation of community spread

Updated: Mar. 17, 2020 at 2:29 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Following the first confirmed instance of coronavirus community spread, Lt. Gov. Josh Green on Tuesday urged residents to prepare for new cases ― and restrictions.

“We now have community spread. We’re going to see a lot more of that as we get reports from our private labs. So this is the next phase of COVID-19 for Hawaii,” he told Hawaii News Now on Tuesday.

“You’ll now start hearing stories each and every hour about someone who may have been exposed to a case. This is now the new normal. There will be some community spread to deal with.”

The first case of community spread was reported in a worker at Kualoa Ranch.

The case along with several more announced Tuesday bring the statewide total to 14.

Following the Kualoa Ranch case, Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced a series of steps ― from canceling large events on city property to closing Hanauma Bay ― aimed at stemming a wider outbreak.

Caldwell said effective immediately the city would:

  • Cancel gatherings of over 50 people on city property through April.
  • Close the city’s indoor venues for events and recreation, including the Blaisdell Center.
  • Close Hanauma Bay, since visitors are required to watch a video an enclosed space.

He also said he was “strongly urging” private companies to cancel events of 50 people or more.

Meanwhile, essential city services, including the city bus, will continue to operate without changes. But passengers are being urged to practice social distancing and use the bus for essential travel only.

Caldwell said that if there’s further spread of the virus, he would take more sweeping actions, including potentially ordering bars, night clubs and restaurants to shut down as other large cities have done.

The city’s announcements came on the heels of a confusing news conference with Gov. David Ige minutes earlier, during which he said he had few details on the first case of community transmission.

Also at the news conference, Ige said he wouldn’t be following the lead of other states in instituting more strict policies ― including closing tourist attractions ― to prevent the spread of the virus.

Instead, he said, he was “considering all options to increase social distancing.”

“We do have a case that we believe is community spread. We have not had the opportunity to talk about it,” Ige said at the 2 p.m. news conference at the state Capitol building.

When pressed on the case, which a Hawaii doctor says was reported to the Health Department about 6:45 p.m. Sunday, Ige said he “will not participate in rumors.” He added, “We do not have the facts."

Speaking to reporters, the governor did urge people to practice social distancing, and said he was still reviewing a CDC recommendation that urges people not to gather in groups larger than 50 people. On Monday, the White House went further, saying gatherings of more than 10 people should be avoided.

Despite the guidelines, the governor said he wasn’t yet prepared to require Hawaii organizations, eateries and businesses ― including those that cater to visitors ― to take steps to ensure people were keeping a distance to prevent the outbreak from getting worse and overwhelming hospitals.

“We are considering all options to increase social distancing,” he said.

“We’re not at that point. Are we considering it? Absolutely.”

On Monday, the governor also issued a supplemental emergency proclamation aimed at speeding up the state’s response to the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, and better coordinating it.

The proclamation addresses everything from the activation of some National Guard members to the hoarding of necessities, like toilet paper.

The proclamation also waives the one-week wait time for unemployment claims ― as everyone expects a big hit to our economy.

Travelers, both by air and cruise ship, could also face additional screening.

That is something even legislative leaders are urging the state to already start. Maj. Gen. Ken Hara, the state’s adjutant general, says those discussions have just begun.

“Formulating a plan to look at screening people at both the cruise line passengers as they get off and at the airports ... so that’s work in progress," he said.

“We’ll have both combination of the National Guard planners, Hawaii Emergency Management planners and those from the Department of Transportation.”

Ige added, “We are looking at all options that can help us flatten that curve and ensure that our health care facilities don’t get overwhelmed so that anyone who needs care can get appropriate level of care.”

The first case of community spread is a tour guide at Kualoa Ranch with no history of out-of-state travel. She tested positive over the weekend for coronavirus, her doctor told Hawaii News Now.

The development is one that state officials have been dreading ― and comes as cities across the US are instituting stricter guidelines to stem the outbreak.

The Kualoa Ranch employee’s physician, Dr. Scott Miscovich, said after learning of the positive result through a private lab, he immediately notified the Health Department just before 7 p.m. Sunday.

HNN learned about the case later Sunday night.

The state Health Department has not yet released any additional details. When asked about it, officials directed HNN to the news conference with Ige.

In a news release, the state Health Department said of the three additional cases reported Monday, two were Oahu residents and one was a visitor on Maui.

Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children subsequently confirmed that one of its health care workers had tested positive after a recent out-of-state trip.

The following message is from Hawaii Pacific Health President & CEO Ray Vara: A health care worker at Kapiolani Medical...

Posted by Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children on Monday, March 16, 2020

Meanwhile, the Kualoa Ranch employee got tested at a private testing site last week, and her results came in Sunday night.

The patient is a younger woman who lives in Windward Oahu. She’s “doing better,” but has not fully recovered, and remains in isolation.

Miscovich said that once she got tested, she didn’t leave her house again. At least 25 other people with close contact to the woman have been tested.

Kualoa Ranch has announced it will be closed for at least a week.

This story will be updated.

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