Governor says he’s not ready to ease stay-at-home restrictions

Updated: Apr. 21, 2020 at 4:15 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii is reporting just four new COVID-19 cases on Monday ― in more strong evidence that the state’s stay-at-home order is working to stop the spread of the virus.

But in a news conference, Gov. David Ige said Hawaii isn’t yet ready to begin re-opening its economy.

He urged residents to stay the course — at least for now.

“We will have to live with COVID-19 in our community for a long time,” he said. “We want to — when the conditions are right — restore to some normalcy activities in our community.”

“I assure you we will be thoughtful in how we phase in a return to normal,” he added.

The governor has indicated he’s going to extend the stay-at-home order beyond April 30, while easing some restrictions and potentially deeming more businesses “essential,” allowing them to reopen.

“We are considering all of the mandates and looking at where we are as a community and where we are as a state.”

State public health officials also said Hawaii isn’t prepared to lift strict stay-at-home mandates, which have closed everything from hair salons and restaurants to beaches and hiking trails.

“We need to make sure that’s (the decline in cases) sustained over time,” said Bruce Anderson, said state Health Department director. “We need to make sure we have this situation under control before we start relaxing controls.”

Two of the four new Hawaii cases reported Monday were on Maui; the other two on the Big Island. There were no new cases on Oahu.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, a physician, said he was “astounded” by the drop to zero on Oahu.

Had Hawaii not instituted stay-at-home restrictions and a mandatory quarantine for travelers, the state would have seen nearly 4,500 deaths, Green said, pointing to state Health Department calculations.

“This number would have been catastrophic,” he said.

Despite a steep spike in cases early on, Hawaii now has one of the lowest fatality rates in the nation from COVID-19. The death toll in Hawaii stands at 10.

Meanwhile, there have been 584 confirmed cases statewide and more than 24,000 people tested.

While government officials have praised stay-at-home restrictions in dramatically decreasing the number of new cases daily, they’ve also cautioned that lifting them too quickly could be disastrous.

Last week, the governor and Honolulu’s mayor both urged people to prepare for a gradual return to a new normal.

Instead of doing away with stay-at-home orders altogether, officials are looking to “phase in” a reopening of the economy. They’ve also stressed that residents should brace for social distancing rules for years to come.

[Special section: COVID-19 PANDEMIC]

Ige is facing mounting pressure to help businesses struggling to stay afloat. Thousands have closed while many more are operating with dramatically reduced operations.

Hawaii has been among the states hardest hit by the pandemic as the shutdown brings tourism to a virtual standstill. Last week, Hawaii saw its unemployment rate grow to a jaw-dropping 37% — the highest in the nation. Meanwhile, the governor has also sought to prepare union leaders and for pay cuts of as high as 20%.

But amid the economic conversations, there’s also concern about a second wave of cases.

Authorities are also trying to prevent clusters of the illness, as have been seen on Maui and the Big Island.

On Maui, a COVID-19 cluster at Maui Memorial Medical Center has sickened at least 45 people, including 16 patients. On the Big Island, a cluster linked to fast food eateries includes at least 30 cases.

Of the total number of cases so far in Hawaii, 423 people have recovered and been released from isolation.

Here’s the latest county-by-county breakdown of cases:

  • Oahu: 385
  • Maui: 108 (includes 2 on Molokai)
  • Kauai: 21
  • Big Island: 64
  • Hawaii residents diagnosed out-of-state: 6

This story may be updated.

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