Governor defends pandemic response as Hawaii reports 6th COVID-19 death

Published: Apr. 9, 2020 at 5:32 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The governor defended the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic Wednesday, saying that Hawaii is outperforming much of the country in its efforts to stop the spread of the virus.

The comments come as the state reports its sixth COVID-19 death.

The total number of coronavirus cases statewide, meanwhile, stands at 435.

In a news conference Wednesday, Gov. David Ige offered his condolences to the family of the latest fatality — an elderly Maui resident who died at home.

And he said while people must continue to do their part to mitigate the spread of coronavirus — by staying at home and limiting contact with others in public — there is reason to be optimistic.

“We have the situation under control,” Ige said. “I think we can all be proud of the work we’ve done.”

Projections from the University of Washington appear to underscore that message.

Researchers are predicting that Hawaii will peak at 10 deaths a day by Sunday, with an estimated 112 deaths by the summer. Those projections are down from 155 deaths earlier this week.

But some have criticized the state’s response, saying government is giving the public mixed messages and not listening to the health care community, especially on how to handle testing.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard went as far as to say Wednesday that the leaders of the Health Department should resign, while state lawmakers grilled administration officials over how visitors under quarantine are being monitored.

There were also growing questions about a cluster of at least 15 coronavirus cases linked to Maui Memorial Hospital workers. State lawmakers have expressed concern about how many patients may have been exposed, and Lt. Gov. Josh Green said he was shocked to learn Wednesday that the DOH had monitoring the cluster for days.

The Maui death was not associated with the cluster at the hospital, officials said. It is the second fatality on the island. The four remaining deaths have been on Oahu.

The majority of the 25 new cases reported Wednesday are on Oahu.

Here’s a look at the county-by-county breakdown of reported cases:

  • Oahu: 328
  • Maui County: 54 (including 2 on Molokai)
  • Big Island: 26
  • Kauai: 18
  • Pending: 7
  • Diagnosed out of state: 2

More than 15,000 people have been tested for coronavirus in Hawaii.

[Here are the latest county-by-county breakdowns of coronavirus cases]

Of those who tested positive, at least 59 remain hospitalized.

Meanwhile, 113 people total have been “released from isolation.” That means it’s been three days since they’ve exhibited symptoms or seven since they first got sick, whichever is longest.

At the state’s news conference Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Josh Green did formally announce that the state would start testing close contacts of those who positive for coronavirus — even if they have no symptoms.

The Health Department and Green had publicly disagreed over whether to test asymptomatic people.

Earlier in the day, state lawmakers questioned the administration over how it’s monitoring visitors who are coming to Hawaii despite a 14-day, mandatory quarantine.

Over the last three days, the number of visitors coming to the islands has gone up. On Sunday, there were 126.

But on Tuesday, the number was 160.

Responding to calls to petition the White House to stop non-essential travel to Hawaii, Ige said he’s spoken extensively to the FAA and determined there is no way to shut down the airport system.

Instead, he said, the state was looking at other options to keep tabs on visitors — including potentially putting them all at a single hotel.

Kenneth Hara, Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency director, told lawmakers earlier in the day that it appears most visitors aren’t adhering to the quarantine order.

Also Wednesday, the governor appointed Alan Oshima, HECO’s senior executive adviser, to a newly-created role to oversee the state’s economic recovery.

“We are in a crisis. This is unprecedented," Oshima said, at a news conference. “When asked to serve in a crisis, the only answer has to be yes. I can pledge that what we’re going to do is bring people togheter.”

This story will be updated.

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