Despite soaring COVID-19 cases, governor opts not to institute new restrictions

With major ICUs nearing capacity, patients are being moved and reinforcements sought

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - On a day that the state saw 355 new COVID-19 infections, the governor on Thursday said Hawaii is “moving in the wrong direction” but he stopped short of instituting any new mandates aimed at reining in the spread of the virus.

He did pledge, however, to bring back new mandates if cases remain high.

“The prevalence of COVID-19 is expanding here in Hawaii,” Gov. David Ige said, in a news conference. “Clusters are occurring in all areas of the community. We have seen a significant and rapid increase in the number of positive cases. I know so many are concerned and worried and so am I.”

[Read more: Hawaii reports 355 new COVID-19 cases as death toll rises to 40]

Hawaii’s 355 new coronavirus cases Thursday shattered the previous single-day record of 231. There were also two fatalities reported, the fourth consecutive day that Hawaii’s death toll from the virus has grown.

As infections have grown in recent weeks, the governor and Honolulu’s mayor have sought to avoid a lockdown — as was done in March — and instead taken smaller steps aimed at addressing problem areas.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green provides an update on state's COVID-19 response

On Oahu, bars are now closed along with parks and beaches. On Tuesday, a modified inter-island travel quarantine was reinstated. And most public schools (along with a number of private schools) with start the fall semester fully online. The University of Hawaii has also opted to take most classes online.

Onlookers, however, have questioned whether those measures are enough given how rapidly the virus is spreading across Oahu. Dozens of businesses and offices have reported infections, even with a mask mandate in place, underscoring just how easy it is to transmit COVID-19 in group settings.

Seemingly in response to those calls, the governor acknowledged Thursday he is weighing a return to his “stay-at-home” order, which required residents to remain in their homes unless they were essential workers or engaged in essential activities. But, he said, Hawaii isn’t there yet.

“If things do not get better we will have no choice but to reinstate more restrictive measures,” he said.

State officials provide update on the number of contact tracers

Ige added the state is also eyeing a further delay of the testing program for trans-Pacific travelers. The program is key to rebooting the tourism industry, allowing visitors to come to Hawaii without quarantining.

The state’s alarming rise in new coronavirus infections is already putting stress on hospitals, and experts have warned they could be overwhelmed before the end of the month if the number of new cases don’t subside.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green called the increase Thursday “scary,” and urged people to wear a mask and stay home as much as possible. “We have seen a rapid acceleration in the spread of COVID,” he said.

From February to June, there were 900 new infections in Hawaii. Then in July, the state saw more than 1,200 cases. And so far in August alone, there have been more than 2,100 new infections in the islands.

Of the more than 2,550 active cases in Hawaii, about 96% are on Oahu.

Green also said that at least 150 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized in Hawaii. That figure is up by 81 people from two weeks ago. Of those hospitalized, at least 29 are in the ICU and 22 are on ventilators.

“There’s a hospital surge happening now,” Green said.

This story will be updated.

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