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State: Spike in new COVID-19 cases is cause for concern but won’t slow reopening plans

Updated: Jun. 20, 2020 at 1:55 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state health director said Friday that an increase of 27 new COVID-19 cases on Friday is worrisome, but are manageable and won’t slow reopening plans.

“The decision to pause or postpone the opening plan will depend largely on whether we can effectively manage the cases that we’re seeing. Right now, we’re seeing what we expected to see,” said Bruce Anderson, director of the state Health Department, adding that the new cases aren’t over-taxing the contact tracing or hospital system.

He added that if the state were to see 100 new cases that would be worrisome.

“We are worried about where this is going, but I’m hopeful the cases will go down.”

The new cases, all of which appear to be the result of community transmission, bring the statewide total to 789.

It’s the largest single-day increase in cases since April 4 ― and comes as bars, movie theaters, museums and other higher-risk venues reopen on Oahu.

The state is blaming the spike on clusters of infection linked to large households, an outbreak at a nursing home and multiple faith-based gatherings in Waipahu.

Responding to the increase, the state Health Department once again urged residents to wear cloth face masks, practice social distancing, wash their hands frequently, and avoid large gatherings.

Anderson noted that “many of the recent cases” have been associated with clusters.

One of those clusters is linked to faith-based gatherings in Waipahu, in which congregants of a church gathered at a pastor’s home because the church itself was closed.

At least 12 people are now associated with the cluster, including six new cases Friday.

“The pastor was a case and did meet with constituents and probably family and others regularly.” Anderson said. “What it is is an example of lots of people gathering in a closed environment where COVID can be easily spread."

“This is just the kind of situation that we want people to avoid.”

Authorities added that while there’s been speculation large Black Lives Matter protests contributed to the spike, there’s no evidence of that so far. In fact, the state hasn’t found a single COVID-19 case linked to the protests.

In a statement, Gov. David Ige said the increase was “anticipated” as more restrictions are lifted.

“It is still manageable, but it serves as a reminder that we must continue to be vigilant in the battle against COVID-19, especially because of the potential harm that the virus can cause to our most vulnerable populations,” he said.

“We are well-prepared to handle this level of new cases. We have good capacity for testing, contact tracing and care within our hospitals and other healthcare facilities. In addition, the increase in cases is a clear sign that our contact tracing and testing programs are working and we’re finding more COVID-19 in our communities.”

This story will be updated.

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