HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Responding to critics that say he’s not doing enough to tackle an increase in COVID-19 cases on the Big Island, Mayor Harry Kim said he will likely institute a broader shutdown if infections don’t decline — and if experts believe a stricter lockdown is necessary.
In recent weeks, the number of new cases on the Big Island has continued to rise.
There were 34 new infections reported Friday. The island has also seen six fatalities since last week — all at a Hilo long-term care home for veterans that’s reported 65 total cases among residents and workers.
Since the pandemic began, the Big Island has seen 469 coronavirus cases.
Of those, more than 200 are “active,” which remains they could still potentially be infectious.
Hawaii County closed beach parks Friday in a bid to prevent gatherings.
“It used to be a regular event for large groups to be here, but I think right now we’re just trying to jusdt do our best to stay in shape and again not get anybody else sick,” said Kamaka Auna said as he finished surfing at Richardson Ocean Park. While the parks are closed, people can still access them to get to and from the water.
The mayor said he’s also working to bolster testing, including in rural areas.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s probably not enough,” said state Sen. Kai Kahele of Hilo. “I think Mayor Harry Kim should look at the examples being set by Mayor Caldwell and other mayors. We need to get the surge of COVID-19 cases under control on Hawaii island.
To critics who say the county should be instituting stricter measures, Kim said he’s open to them.
“If this warrants a shutdown ... it will be done,” he said.
Kahele also said a cluster of cases at the Milolii fishing village on the Big Island is of grave concern — and needs a rapid response.
“I’m very concerned right now,” he said, adding the isolated Native Hawaiian community of about 300 residents is at high risk of severe symptoms from COVID-19. “They need government help.”
But Kim said the situation is under control, and a shutdown is not warranted there.
“All of those people have been isolated. All of the people at the party have been contacted,” said Kim. “Because of the information from a small aprty, they knew who was there.”
Testing is also being ramped up on the island. In Pahoa, residents lined up for screenings, while another testing is scheduled Saturday for Milolii area residents.
“A team of our folks, including the Department of Health, including folks from the county and including folks from my team going down and just providing the testing and support to the village and all the folks down there,” said Dr. Kaohimanu Dang Akiona of Premier Medical Group.
The county also has converted Aunty Sally’s Luau Hale into a command center, where federal, state and county authorities -- including contact tracers -- can work together under one roof.
“This is going to be like a central operations point for the mayor, that he can come in at any time and get all the information, all the latest updates from COVID-19,” said Maurice Messina, an executive assistant to the mayor.
Hilo Medical Center said Friday that it is caring for 11 coronavirus patients, three of whom are in the ICU.
Additionally, five staff members at the hospital have tested positive for the virus.