Mayor: Spike in COVID-19 cases could force some businesses to close again

Mayor Kirk Caldwell discusses the sudden rise in coronavirus cases in Hawaii

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A stern Mayor Kirk Caldwell pleaded with residents Tuesday to wear masks and practice social distancing as new COVID-19 cases spike on Oahu to “disturbing” levels and warned if infections don’t decrease soon he might have to shut down some parts of the economy again.

Forty-one new cases were reported statewide Tuesday, in the highest single-day spike since the pandemic began. Of the new cases, 38 were on Oahu ― scattered in communities islandwide.

“What we’re seeing is extremely unfortunate,” Caldwell said, at a news conference. “We’re seeing widespread circulation of the virus. I tell you as mayor, What do I do now?”

[Read more: Hawaii sees 41 new COVID-19 cases in highest single-day spike since pandemic began]

He added he could be forced to shut down some high-risk businesses again, including bars and gyms, if the number of infections don’t come down. “I don’t want to have to make these decisions but we will make them if we have to protect the health and safety of the people of this island,” Caldwell said.

The mayor listed communities island-wide that were seeing new cases and also mentioned a number of recent clusters, including 15 associated with a Hawaiian Airlines training and nine linked to a gym.

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#LIVE: Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is speaking this afternoon amid a spike in new COVID-19 cases. The state saw 41 new infections, a new one-day high. #HINews #HNN

Posted by Hawaii News Now on Tuesday, July 7, 2020

“I wish I didn’t have to report this. There has been so much sacrifice made by the people of Oahu. Billions upon billions upon billions of dollars lost. Businesses destroyed. Lives disrupted,” Caldwell said.

“I was hoping as we thawed out our economy we could manage the cases we see.”

The mayor said the Health Department is now worried that it doesn’t have enough contact tracers to keep up with the number of new cases. Contact tracers are charged with reaching out to close contacts of COVID-19 cases and asking them to self-isolate and, in some cases, get tested.

Mayor Caldwell's impassioned plea: wear a mask, socially distance, or risk returning to square one

“We’re at the mercy of the state Department of Health to protect all of us and we need more assurance,” Caldwell said. “We are seeing signs that are not very positive. Folks, we got to do better.”

The Health Department pushed back against those statements Tuesday, saying that it is actively hiring more trained contact tracers and called contact tracing a reactionary step not a proactive one.

“It’s not just about contact tracing. It’s not just about testing,” said Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist. Instead, she said, the community also has a responsibility to do its part to stop the virus.

Caldwell said that he has submitted “triggers” to the governor that would require a shuttering of some businesses when cases reach a certain point, and added they’ll be discussed Wednesday when Ige and the mayors meet. “For me, seeing community spread the way we see it today is a very alarming sign, particularly if the Department of Health cannot contact trace aggressively,” he said.

This story will be updated.

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