Lt. Gov. Green, others say new rules for Oahu gatherings aren’t enough to rein in COVID-19 surge

Updated: Aug. 20, 2020 at 7:15 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - With a COVID-19 outbreak raging at Hawaii’s largest jail and several of Oahu’s intensive care units nearing capacity, experts are expressing doubt that new restrictions on gatherings that go into effect at midnight will be enough to knock down coronavirus.

Among the critics: Hawaii’s lieutenant governor.

In an interview with HNN on Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Josh Green came out against the governor’s decision not to announce a broad shutdown and said he didn’t buy the Health Department’s reassurances.

Green also said he told the governor ahead of Tuesday’s announcement on gatherings that at a minimum, Oahu should return to the “safer at home order,” shutting down gatherings and larger venues.

He worries without broader measures hospitals could soon be overwhelmed.

After rumors an islandwide shutdown could be coming, Tuesday’s announcement from the governor caught many by surprise. Instead of closing gyms, schools and other gathering places, he focused on gathering size, ordering that all groups indoors and out be limited to five or fewer people.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell acknowledged that government was eyeing broader orders.

“We’ve been struggling over the past four or five days whether we use a scalpel or a hammer to attack the spiking of COVID-19 on the island of Oahu,” he said Tuesday. “We’ve chosen the scalpel for now.”

The new order also keeps bars, parks, beaches and hiking trails closed for the next 28 days.

In addition, anyone who can work from home is being asked to do so. And masks are now required at all malls and during spiritual services, where singing and wind instruments are banned.

“I’m concerned that this fixation on playing the flute or singing in church is distracting from the real problem, which is that there are 3,590 people with active COVID in our state and that’s going to be 400 hospitalizations,” said Green. “That’s where our focus should be.”

He added, “What I’m hearing from the healthcare system and physicians is it’s a danger zone. We have to stop the spread. We have to buy some time for the Department of Health to adequately get (contact) tracing up. It has been inadequate and that is a weapon we need. This is a time for very sober decision-making.”

Although there were signs restrictions that went into effect earlier this month had started to slow the rate of infection, Green is worried by Wednesday’s increase in cases.

“With 261 cases today and an explosion of cases at OCCC, it’s really ... a tipping point for our hospitals,” Green said. “They are now having to divert patients in some cases.”

Other medical experts agree with Green.

Epidemiologist DeWolfe Miller called the new rules “too little too late.” He added the state Department of Health’s failure to admit when it needed help has put everyone in a hole that will be hard to get out of.

“So far, it seems like there’s been some shuffling of the deck but no real change in guard,” Miller said.

“Without anybody who can cut through the red tape and get the job done, we’re just muddling along.”

On Wednesday, there were 187 COVID-19 patients hospitalized statewide. Of those, 33 are in intensive care and 20 are on ventilators.

In the face of those numbers, state Health Director Bruce Anderson on Wednesday said there was reason for optimism. He said hospitals are not in crisis and he believes the new restrictions will make a difference.

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