On Tuesday, Hawaii officials announced the first COVID-19 related death in the islands, along with 20 new cases, bringing the state’s total number of confirmed infections to 224.

The person who died was an elderly Oahu man, according to the Department of Health.

Earlier this month, DOH reported there had been a death related to the virus but ultimately found that was inaccurate.

Hawaii reported its first coronavirus death on Tuesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

DOH Director Bruce Anderson offered his condolences to the family of the man, who had been hospitalized recently with multiple medical issues.

“It’s not clear at this time what the exact cause of death was, but the individual did have a positive COVID-19 exposure,” Anderson said. “He was there (at the hospital) only for a short period of time before he passed away.”

The department would not provide further details about the person.

First Case Found In Community Surveillance

Of the latest 20 cases, 18 of them were in Honolulu County, and two others are still being investigated by the Department of Health.

Among the cases confirmed Tuesday was the first positive result the health department has found among its community surveillance testing, according to Anderson.

“We survey individuals randomly across the state — those who have flu-like illness where the flu has been ruled out,” he said. About 380 samples have been assessed. Since only one has tested positive for COVID-19, community transmission is not considered by the department to be widespread yet, he said.

Private and state laboratories have conducted and verified the results of more than 9,000 tests as of Tuesday, Anderson said. Among those, 224 have come back positive for the coronavirus. The rest were negative or inconclusive.

A new graph from the Department of Health released Monday shows the majority of infections have been among Hawaii residents. Department of Health

The department included testing counts for the first time in its data Monday evening, along with new graphics that illustrate the rate of infection and census areas where confirmed patients reside. 

Oahu continues to harbor the most cases. Honolulu County has documented nearly 160 coronavirus cases to date. Maui County has documented 25, Hawaii County 15, and Kauai County 12.

Of the 224 cases verified by state laboratories to date, more than half, or 194 infections afflicted Hawaii residents and about 20 afflicted non-Hawaii residents.

The Hawaii Department of Health has classified just eight cases as being related to community-transmission.

About half of the infections have been contracted abroad, health officials believe. Approximately 102 cases have been categorized as travel-related infections, and another 65 are still under investigation.

Research shows that many COVID-19 cases are mild. The DOH webpage indicates 58 people have recovered as of Tuesday.

Plans For Ramping Up

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency is developing a plan that details how the state will ramp up its containment efforts if the virus continues to spread.

The agency has looked to how Washington and California have responded to COVID-19 as examples in developing the plan, Luke Myers, HIEMA administrator, told a panel of senators Tuesday.

While he didn’t provide specific details to the Senate committee, Myers said the HIEMA plan includes circumstances that would trigger a greater response from the state to slow down the virus as well as plans on how Hawaii will recover once it’s over.

The committee asked that those plans and timelines get communicated to the public so they know what to expect.

“If we keep getting informed by press conference, we’ll all get whiplash,” Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz told Myers.

The Senate is expected to hold a separate hearing to examine the plan once it is complete.

City Closes Private Golf Clubs

Meanwhile, at a separate press conference Tuesday, Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced private golf courses on Oahu will not be allowed to operate starting Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.

Caldwell already ordered the closure of municipal golf courses on March 18 and later issued a broader “stay at home, work from home” order. Since March 23, Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard said officers have issued 180 citations and arrested nine people for various violations, including being present in city parks.

Jenny Picciotto, a Kailua resident, had been concerned about potential COVID-19 spread at the nearby Mid-Pacific Country Club, which was hosting games of golf as recently as this past weekend. She applauded the mayor’s move to temporarily close them down.

“It sends the right message to the community that we’re all in this together and it also shows that they’re taking it seriously,” she said. “By having the private golf courses open, it was an opening to divisiveness between those who have and those who have not.”

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