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Maui County Mayor Hopes Vaccinations, Distancing Can Prevent Another Lockdown

Maui County Mayor Mike Victorino speaks at a press conference on April 20, 2021.
Office of Gov. David Ige
Maui County Mayor Mike Victorino speaks at a press conference on April 20, 2021.

Maui County's mayor said the possibility of another lockdown is still on the table, but he hopes more vaccinations and social distancing will slow the spread of cases before that might be necessary.

Mayor Mike Victorino said Thursday the Maui healthcare system is at capacity, though it has the ability to expand the number of hospital beds if the COVID-19 surge continues. About 55% of Maui County has been fully vaccinated, according to the state dashboard.

Maui logged 125 cases Thursday, and over the past week there has been a cluster of 11 at Kahului Elementary — said to be the largest cluster in an academic setting in the state. Victorino had asked for the start of in-person classes to be delayed because of growing concerns about coronavirus, but his request did not gain support from the state.

"The entire state is burning up at this point. I got to take care of Maui and we're doing our best here, right this very moment. If you take the 14-day average, we're at 60 a day but still, that's very, very concerning," Victorino told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

Below are excerpts from Victorino's interview with The Conversation's Catherine Cruz, edited for length and clarity.

On available beds in Maui's healthcare system amid a surge in cases

VICTORINO: My healthcare system is at capacity but they can increase their bedding. Right now there are at 219, but they can go up to 300 beds. They're equipped to expand if necessary. I'm happy to announce that there's a rapid response nursing group coming to Maui, and the rest of the state. But a new group is coming in on Monday to help supplant and really ease the pressure of our healthcare workers, our nurses and others that have been 24/7/365, just working their tails off — not only with COVID but other necessary emergencies like strokes, heart attacks, trauma cases, accidents, people breaking legs and getting hurt. The ER is just full of people with all kinds of challenges, not just COVID-19. So our medical staff, our frontline heroes are working awfully hard, and we should be so thankful, and relief is on the way, and I really believe that will help them get some respite that they so deserve, so richly deserve.

What's the message you want to underscore for the residents of Maui?

VICTORINO: Right now, Molokaʻi and Lanaʻi depend on outside assistance. Molokaʻi is part of the Queen's system and so when you have urgent care that's needed, they're then medivac-ed to Oʻahu to Queen's and you know what the status of Queen's is. On Lanaʻi, they are part of the Maui healthcare system and so that hospital would send urgent care patients to Maui, which we're stressed also. So what we're saying basically is we all got to band together and get vaccinated, stay physically distanced, good hygiene, wear your mask. These are the things each and every one of us can do each and every day, and I think this will help curb the spread. Other than that, the spread's going to continue, it's not going to stop.

On possibly reinstating any pandemic-related restrictions

VICTORINO: We put in a request to the governor, as far as the Safe Travels having pretests again. We're looking at also other restrictions that we need the governor's approval on — mandating vaccinations or, like what we've done here in the County of Maui, mandating testing if you're not fully vaccinated; work from home, teleworking has been implemented in our operations when and wherever possible. So we're trying to do what we can from the county's point of view, and what authority we have to try to scale back wherever and to protect the people of Maui County.

On the possibility of implementing another lockdown

VICTORINO: That's an option that is on the table and it hasn't gone away. I mean, that's still on the table itself. But we need time to lockdown and we have to give our visitors and residents a life to make those changes because they're profound if we go back to lockdown. We're hoping that if we do the other areas, especially vaccination which we didn't have last year at this time, we can at least slow the spread and with everybody doing what is right, eventually get to a point where we have manageable numbers again — like we had just about a month and a half ago, six weeks ago. We were in single digits, things seemed to be moving real well, then bam it hit us and hit us real hard. If you're not vaccinated, get vaccinated for those who have family, especially protect the children, our keiki, and the vulnerable. Boosters are available also now, so those who have health impairments and health challenges, get your booster shot, do what you need to do. Together we are "Maui Nui Strong" and "Hawaiʻi strong."

On Maui County having the lowest vaccination rate among Hawaiʻi's counties

VICTORINO: We're still seeing some pushback. We've had protests, anti-vaxxers and others are not wanting to get vaccinated. It's really difficult to convince somebody who believes that what you're saying is absolutely wrong, no matter what facts you put in front of them. So we're just continuing with our messaging: asking people, protect yourself, protect your friends and family and protect your community. That's basically all we can do. Now we have Merriman's has mandated testing for all their employees, and we're hoping other businesses which have not followed suit will start, especially those service-oriented businesses like restaurants that deal with the public in a direct manner every day. So we want to make sure that vaccinations are the number one priority throughout our county and throughout the state and nation for that matter.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Aug. 19, 2021.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
Sophia McCullough is a digital news producer. Contact her at news@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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