This State Is on the Verge of Going Back Into Lockdown, Governor Warns
Add another state to the list of U.S. locales that are looking at reversing their reopening plans.
If we've learned anything thus far amid the coronavirus pandemic, it's that no state is ever safe. Even some of the states that seemed to have gotten their outbreaks under control have seen the tables turn against them, like Massachusetts, an early hotspot that is again seeing COVID cases climb. And now, another surprising state—Hawaii–is looking at a return to lockdown after seeing its new cases surge to record highs. As a result, the governor of Hawaii recently announced that he's considering bringing back a stay-at-home order.
On August 13, the state reported 354 new COVID cases, a record for Hawaii, according to The New York Times. For comparison, a month ago, the Ahola State had only 21 new cases on July 13. That means these current numbers are a startling 17 times higher.
Most of the new COVID cases in Hawaii have been in Honolulu and its suburbs on Oahu, Hawaii's most populated island, according to the Associated Press. In response to the state's current spike in cases, health officials closed Oahu's beaches and state parks. But that still hasn't been enough to stop the spread.
During an August 13 press conference to address Hawaii's recent surge, Gov. David Ige said Oahu may need to lock down again. "If things do not get better we will have no choice but to look at more restrictions," Ige said. "This could include going back to the stay-at-home orders or other restrictive measures that we need to implement in order to stem the increase in the number of COVID cases."
He added: "I know that going backwards will cause further harm to our economy, but we have always said the health and safety of our community will be the highest priority."
Oahu hospitals are near capacity, according to Honolulu news outlet KHON2, and that has public health officials concerned. Jonathan Paladino, MD, director of Critical Care for Hawaii Pacific Health, said his hospital is seeing an 100 percent increase of COVID-19 patients compared to June. "Nurses are now starting to log 16-hour shifts and some of the doctors are having to work more consecutive days in a row," Paladino told KOHN2. "You know, we are not in crisis mode yet but we are starting to see the beginnings."
According to the website rt.live—which tracks infection rates across the United States—Hawaii had the highest rate of infection in the country this week. The site posts each state's Rt, value, which is "the average number of people who become infected by an infectious person." An Rt below 1.0 means the virus is slowing down, but if it's above 1.0, that indicates the virus is actively spreading. As of August 14, Hawaii's Rt value is still the highest in the nation at 1.29. On the plus side, the number is down from 1.34 on August 11.
For reference, Hawaii's infection rate was 1.33 during the earliest days of the pandemic, but after instituting its first stay-at-home order and requiring tourists to quarantine, the state's infection rate dropped to a much healthier .63 in early April.
Hawaii's economy relies heavily on tourism, which has been largely shuttered since the pandemic began in March. Ige announced in late June that travelers could visit Hawaii again beginning September 1 without quarantining by presenting a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of boarding a flight. As a result of the spike, that plan is now in limbo. "With the case count increasing the way it has, it will be very difficult to implement and start the pre-travel testing program on September 1," Ige said in his recent press conference, before noting a final decision has yet to be made.
But it's not looking good, considering that on August 11, Ige also reinstated a requirement that people traveling between the islands of Hawaii must quarantine for 14 days. And for more states that could be looking at shutting down again, check out These 7 States Need to Lock Down Right Now, Harvard Researchers Say.