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Hawaiʻi County Announces New Restrictions, State Officials Eye Lockdowns

Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitch Roth holds a live press conference on Aug. 27, 2021, to announce COVID-19 restrictions.
Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitch Roth
Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitch Roth holds a live press conference on Aug. 27, 2021, to announce COVID-19 restrictions.

As visitors continue to fly to Hawaiʻi and locals go about their business, state officials say the islands may need to go into lockdown if the surge of COVID-19 Delta variant cases continues to rise.

County mayors are asking for more restrictions and Gov. David Ige told Hawaii News Now on Thursday that strict mandates are being considered.

If case counts continue to rise “and we push the hospitals across that line then we will have to go to more extreme measures, lockdowns and potentially shutting businesses,” Ige said.

Hawaiʻi has had nearly 16,000 new infections in August amid a spike of cases that has repeatedly broken state records. As of Friday, the state has reported 59,613 cases since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

Earlier this week, Ige asked that tourists stop coming to the islands, but stopped short of enacting any formal restrictions on travel.

On Friday, state health officials reported 1,035 new COVID-19 cases and nine deaths — both single-day records.

Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitch Roth announced Friday that gatherings on the island are limited to 10 people, both indoors and outdoors — effective immediately.

"With an average of 132 cases a day, the Delta variant has undoubtedly swept through our community, and has begun to inundate our hospitals and health care systems," Roth said at a press conference.

Roth said health officials report the island has "reached a tipping point where further inundation could lead our hospitals to an inability to adequately care for non-COVID trauma patients."

"There are many steps we can all take to slow the spread and keep our community safe," he said.

Among the new county COVID-19 restrictions, sports practices can only take place in pods of 10 — meaning games will be canceled.

Lap swimming will be allowed at public pools, but swimming teams will be on pause until the county develops a new plan.

Tents and canopies are prohibited in parks and on beaches, and all outdoor pavilion rentals have been canceled.

Rules for face coverings continue to follow the governor’s Emergency Proclamation — masks are required indoors, and in crowded spaces outdoors. However, masks will be required indoors and outdoors at all times when at a zoo.

Hawaiʻi County police are allowed to give $250 citations to people found violating any of the COVID-19 rules, Roth said.

The Ironman World Championship that was slated to be held in Kailua-Kona in October has been postponed.

The repercussions of inundated hospitals go beyond COVID patients and the island's health system, the acting district health officer for Hawaiʻi County said.

"If we can't admit someone into the hospital because there's not enough room, then they may stay in the emergency room much longer, which means you may be seen less and less if you're not having a great medical emergency that needs prompt immediate attention," said Jason Dela Cruz, speaking to HPR's The Conversation on Wednesday.

The state health care system is closely connected, meaning surges on one island can create a ripple effect, he said. Neighbor island hospitals send their most critical patients who need stabilization to Oʻahu.

"If Oʻahu is seeing high demand, and in critical stages, what happens to our patients that we have to get off of our island?" Dela Cruz said. "And so this is where public health prevention really matters."

Jason Dela Cruz - Aug. 25, 2021
Acting District Health District Officer for Hawaiʻi Island on The Conversation

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino is waiting for state approval for his proposed restrictions.

Victorino is asking residents to only do essential activities and is requesting that visitors voluntarily stay at their resorts and not visit the remote Hana coastline.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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