The Surprising Source of Hawaii's COVID Surge, According to Officials

Clusters of new cases have been linked to one type of gathering.

There was a time when Hawaii was the rare U.S. COVID success story: The state's strict policies during the coronavirus pandemic might have seemed like overkill to some, but they kept cases and deaths down. More recently, however, things have taken a turn, and Hawaii's numbers have started to spike. Hawaii has gone from one of the country's few refuges from the virus to a state the federal government is worried about. One surprising source of the recent COVID outbreak in Hawaii: funerals.

According to local news station KHON, Hawaii has traced 71 new coronavirus cases back to funerals on Oahu. It's not only funerals, of course. Other clusters have come from a birthday party (12 cases) and a hot yoga class (six cases). But given the sheer number of cases resulting from memorial events, Hawaii Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson, PhD, told KHON, "Funeral events, is again, one of the areas we can perhaps more aggressively make some changes, and we'll be working with the counties to figure out how we can better address that."

Per KHON, the Department of Health reported 144 cases on Aug. 4. Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green said that hospitalizations have also risen significantly. "We've surged from about 75 to 138 in our hospitals," he told the outlet. "This is what happens when you have a series of days over a hundred, so I'm very concerned."

Wide angle aerial view of the Waikiki area of Honolulu, Hawaii shot from an altitude of about 1000 feet.

Green is right to be concerned, according to the experts at Covid Act Now, who have moved Hawaii into the "critical" category on their color-coded COVID risk map. That's because the state now has an exceedingly high infection rate of 1.47, which means "active cases are exponentially increasing." Hawaii still only has a moderate daily new case rate (8.4 cases per 100,000 people) and positive test rate (5.1 percent). But as Anderson told KHON, these new cases that can't be traced back to older clusters indicate "widespread illness" in the state.

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At a press conference on Aug. 4, Honolulu mayor Kirk Caldwell urged residents to continue wearing masks and to stop gathering in groups, as reported by Hawaii News Now. "Part of the reason for this press conference is to plead with people to take responsibility," Caldwell said. "It is our kuleana to help fight this virus. It's spreading from within our community."

If the situation does not improve in Hawaii, Caldwell said he was prepared to take "drastic action," implying that another lockdown was on the table. As of Aug. 5, there have been almost 2,560 COVID cases in Hawaii, according to The New York Times. The death of a man on July 29 brought the total number of coronavirus deaths in the state to 27. And for more states facing COVID outbreaks, These Two States Are Becoming the Worst COVID Hotspots in the U.S.

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