Amid hospital crisis, governor pledges strict enforcement of COVID rules over holiday weekend
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As Hawaii faces an increasingly dire hospital crisis, the governor and Hawaii’s four mayors on Friday pleaded with residents to avoid gatherings and wear masks over the Labor Day weekend ― and warned they could face citations of $250 for ignoring COVID mandates.
“The current spike in COVID-19 has put tremendous stress on our hospitals,” Gov. David Ige said, at a news conference, adding that further measures will be needed if COVID case counts don’t drop. “We stand united in pledging state and county resources to enforcing our emergency measures.”
Right now, gatherings are limited to 25 people outdoors and 10 indoors. Masks be worn indoors. And many businesses have to follow capacity limitations.
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said there’s “trepidation” going into the holiday weekend.
“Our hospitalizations, our case counts, people in our ICUs ― everything is at all all-time high,” Blangiardi said. “There is a collective urging to use common sense. We need to pay attention.”
The message comes amid growing alarm about the strain of an ongoing COVID surge on Hawaii’s hospitals. Health care officials say space is running short and so are key medical supplies ― and some have called on the government to institute a brief lockdown to get the cases under control.
The governor Friday once again pushed back against the idea of a shutdown, but acknowledged “further action” may be needed if Hawaii reaches 500 COVID hospitalizations ― a number that’s been identifies as a trigger point. On Friday, 448 people were hospitalized statewide with COVID.
“Our healthcare system is stretched ― close to capacity ― and we certainly would be considering further action if necessary,” Ige said, adding that with 63% of the state’s population vaccinated “we have believed the measured approach moving forward was in everyone’s best interests.”
He said while a stay-at-home order might bring cases down, it would also produce huge economic reproductions at a time when key federally-funded support programs are ending.
“There is significant concern of the economic impact that a stay-at-home order would have,” he said.
But, Ige added, “We are very close to that next step.”
Some residents support the state’s enforcement plans for the holiday weekend.
“I think it’s a good idea, you know,” said Elijah Maltezo, who was headed to China Walls. “Everybody should play their part in bringing these COVID cases down.”
“Whatever the government thinks I will listen to and I will obey,” said Robert Allison of Kaneohe. “But I just think overall, Hawaii can relieve their restrictions at least a little bit and let the people decide.”
On Friday, Honolulu Police Department already began stepping up enforcement.
Four HPD officers on their ATVs patrolled Sans Souci Beach Park enforcing the crowd limits. Law enforcement also stopped by China Walls.
“There was a sheriff and there was a policeman that came by and they were just trying to disperse our crowds,” said Allison. “As in making sure that we were not drinking open containers, and we were within the six feet guideline.”
Jill Hoggard Green, president and CEO of the Queen’s Health Systems, said the “worst-case scenario” is hospitals so flooded with patients “that we are unable to care for all of you and provide the right level of care.” That’s an eventuality that the state is actually already preparing for, though hoping to avoid.
On Hawaii Island alone, there are 24 ICU beds and 25 people in need of them, Mayor Mitch Roth said.
“That’s a big number,” he said, at the news conference. “We need to do whatever we can to protect not only our healthcare workers but everybody on the island. We ask you to do the right thing.”
Since Aug. 1, the state has seen nearly 23,000 COVID infections and 76 deaths.
The vast majority of hospitalizations and fatalities have been among the unvaccinated, but so-called breakthrough cases are increasing because of how widespread virus transmission is in the islands.
In an effort to stem the spread of the virus, the governor and Neighbor Island counties have required vaccines or testing for their employees while Oahu has instituted a stricter vaccine mandate.
And beginning Sept. 13, as part of the city’s Safe Access Oahu program, patrons will need to show their vaccine cards or a negative COVID test to get into Oahu restaurants, gyms and other establishments.
Earlier this week, the governor also sent a letter to Hawaii employers urging them to talk to their workers about what they can do to mitigate the spread of COVID.
Among the recommendations:
- Avoid closed spaces with poor ventilation
- Avoid crowded places with many people nearby
- Avoid close-contact settings, such as close-range conversations
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