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Health official: ‘Innocent’ small gatherings can lead to larger COVID outbreaks

Updated: Dec. 18, 2020 at 6:22 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new report released by the Hawaii Department of Health on Thursday shows clusters stemming from small social gatherings.

Acting state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble says just because the size of a gathering is small, doesn’t mean it’s safe. She said in several of the cases, masks were frequently removed to eat and drink.

Kemble says proper mask wearing and physical distancing is still a must.

“Those seemingly innocent small gatherings over time actually can amplify transmission because if one person was infectious during one gathering, and then spread it at the next gathering, those people might mix with different people, you get the ‘six degrees of separation idea,’ that’s how these things amplify and can actually turn into a substantial outbreak,” said Kemble.

Each county has its own set of rules in terms of gathering sizes based off case count. It’s limited to five people on Oahu and 10 people on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.

Health officials are warning that may still be too many people in one place.

“Clusters are really our largest threat right now. So, if we aren’t masked and we’re in gatherings, there will be spread,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green.

Data over the past two weeks shows no clusters on Kauai, one cluster tied to a restaurant on the Big Island, clusters tied to bars, nightclubs, restaurants and social gatherings on Maui, and clusters tied to correctional facilities, schools, restaurants, places of worship, gyms and an athletic competition are to blame on Oahu.

“We don’t want to retreat, snap back to Tier 1,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

Caldwell warns if the seven-day average stays over 100 for two weeks, only essential businesses would be allowed to operate and gathering sizes would be limited to household members only.

It’s an important reminder heading into Christmas as families prepare for dinners, gift exchanges, and parties.

“Use your common sense about when you get together with others. If you know they’re not in your bubble, then maintaining the masking and the physical distancing is important, no matter what the gathering size. It could be three and you could still trigger spread among multiple households,” Kemble said. “I’m still potentially at risk just from meeting one other person outside of my household.”

Kemble suggests keeping to your household this Christmas, a virtual party with extended family, and if you do get together with people from outside your bubble, always wear your masks and stay six feet apart from each other.

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