Oahu heading back under lockdown as COVID-19 cases continue to mount in Hawaii

August 26, 2020

Courtesy of the Star-Advertiser

After more than four weeks of consistent triple-digit daily coronavirus counts, the hammer finally came down on Oahu as Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced a stay-at-home order starting 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

Caldwell said Gov. David Ige approved his request Tuesday for the order to help tamp down on the spike of coronavirus cases on Oahu and to ease the growing pressure on the island’s hospitals.

The order is similar to the one Caldwell enacted in March, with only essential activities and businesses allowed to continue.

“We’re going to see how it goes,” Caldwell said at a news conference at Honolulu Fire Department headquarters in Honolulu. “We’re hopeful the number will decline.”

But he also indicated the order could be extended if the level of COVID-19 case numbers continue to persist.

“Everybody has to do their part,” he said. “We can do this.”

The “stay-at-home, work-from-home” order was one of three Oahu COVID-19 measures announced at a press conference also attended by U.S. Surgeon Gen. Dr. Jerome Adams and Ige.

Caldwell said the city will use federal emergency coronavirus funds to hire hundreds of additional contact tracers to work in coordination with the state Department of Health.

He also announced a partnership with the federal government to offer free testing on Oahu with the goal of completing 60,000 tests over the next two weeks.

The announcements came as state health officials reported 215 new coronavirus cases, bringing the statewide total since the start of the pandemic to 6,984.

There were 2,307 new tests in Tuesday’s count, with positive cases representing 9.3% of the total tested. A positivity rate of 5% and under is generally found in states with robust testing programs and where the virus is fairly well controlled.

At Tuesday’s press conference, Caldwell said he was hoping there would have been more impact from measures to shut down bars three weeks ago, beaches, parks and trails two weeks ago and limiting the size of gatherings nearly one week ago.

The mayor had said he and Ige were using a scalpel, rather than a hammer, to cut down on the virus.

“Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the numbers come down to levels we’d like to see,” he said. “Right now, the community is not healthy and business is not very healthy. We want both to get both back to a healthy standing.”

Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, expressed frustration following Tuesday’s announcement.

“Hawaii’s local businesses have taken the economic brunt of stopping the spread of COVID-19,” she said in a statement. “We understand that defeating COVID-19 is only possible through a collective effort, but are disappointed that the high case count has necessitated a second stay at home order for Oahu. Second shutdowns are more devastating for local economies. Two weeks is an eternity for businesses that are already suffering — many will not survive.”

Menor-McNamara said she has yet to see a comprehensive, statewide plan to support businesses in need and added that Hawaii is one of just 11 states without one.

“We understand that these are difficult decisions. But while we continue to advocate on behalf of local businesses, the financial resources to create statewide support programs lie with the government. It didn’t have to come to this — local businesses and their employees deserve better,” she said.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Adams voiced support for the decision to move forward with the shutdown order. He said two weeks can make a big difference.

“It only needs to be for about two weeks if everyone does their part,” he said, “so we need all of you to join hands together, like we know you have in the past, and do the right thing.”

Caldwell said that because the surge testing will be taking place at the same time as the stay-at-home order, Oahu will have immediate feedback on how the stay-at-home order is working.

The order specifically requires Oahu residents to stay at home and work from home — except for certain essential activities — and for all businesses to cease activities — except for certain essential businesses, health care operations and government functions.

There is a long list of essential businesses, among them grocery stores, farms, banks, hardware stores, plumbers, education institutions, laundromats, transportation workers, home-based care for seniors, professional services, funeral homes, private detectives and the media.

Travel will be limited to essential activities or for the operation of essential business or essential government functions.

Under the order, residents are allowed to emerge from their shelter for such things as obtaining medical supplies or medication, visiting a health care professional, obtaining necessary services or supplies such as groceries. Outdoor activities and exercise is allowed, but parks and trails remain closed.

Residents also will be allowed to go to testing sites.

Indoor and outdoor social gatherings of any type continue to be prohibited, although religious services will be allowed as long as current restrictions on social distancing and singing are followed.

People still can move across beaches to access the ocean for such activities as surfing, solo paddling and swimming.

Restaurants will be allowed to remain open for takeout only, but retail businesses, real estate firms, auto dealerships, golf courses, gyms and salons must all close.

“If you need to get a haircut, go now,” the mayor said.

Caldwell said public schools and the University of Hawaii will remain open at the governor’s request.

Violation of the order is punishable as a misdemeanor, with fines of up to $5,000, up to a year in jail or both.

The order does not apply to the neighbor islands, which continue to see far fewer cases than Oahu.

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