Record spike in COVID-19 cases leaves some uncertain about reopening plan

State leaders on the verge of pulling back as COVID-19 case count reaches a new high

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some state leaders are expressing uncertainty about reopening schools as the number of new coronavirus cases hit an all-time high Thursday.

Health officials reported 55 new infections, including 50 on Oahu, three on the Big Island and two on Maui.

It’s a surge surpassing the previous record set on July 11 by nearly 25%.

The Department of Health also reported another death Thursday ― the third one in less than a week.

During a news conference, top health officials indicated the state could be on the verge of having to pull back as new evidence shows the virus is starting to spread more rapidly, particularly on Oahu.

“Opening schools, public schools, private schools and universities will be dependent on maintaining the health of community,” said state Health Director Bruce Anderson.

He said spikes are to be expected. What would be of concern is if the high levels continue.

“And 55 is a high level for Hawaii,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green says the increase in cases is partly due to more testing ― nearly 2,500 in this latest batch. Some 2.2% of the tests came back positive.

It’s a number that’s gradually gotten higher as the pandemic has progressed.

Green worries it’s an increase contact tracers aren’t equipped to handle. He said the state’s taking too long to alert people who have been exposed to the virus.

“I think the combination of a surge in cases plus school’s reopening really merits a lot of additional capacity,” he said. “We should help Department of Health get to 500 active contact tracers. They’re going to need them.”

State Epidemiologist Sarah Park responded, “It’s our intent to bring on at least 20 right now in the short term period and then to monitor how things are going to see if we need to hire more.”

Park went on to say the virus is still manageable. But she warned relaunching tourism and getting kids back to school could be pushed back if people refuse to change their habits.

“Right now that’s being jeopardized by the fact that some part of our community continues to disregard the safe practices of physical distancing, wearing your masks, washing your hands. And especially staying home if you’re sick,” she said.

For now, hospital resources remain in good shape.

Statewide, there are 39 COVID patients ― five in intensive care and three on ventilators.

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