As COVID-19 cases in the islands signal another surge, state officials are calling on residents to stop seeing people outside of their households.

Among the latest outbreaks are a cluster of at least 39 infections among staff and patients at The Queen’s Medical Center, along with a Maui condominium outbreak that has affected at least 75 people.

In a Facebook video posted Thursday, Lt. Gov. Josh Green asks viewers to stop getting together for at least two weeks.

“If we don’t have any social gatherings outside of our households and our family, we’ll see these numbers come way down,” he said. “That’s the most important thing we can do as we ramp up the vaccination effort.”

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said he is “respectfully requesting” that people stay home and stick to their household bubbles for at least two weeks after the state reported more than 300 new cases Thursday. 

Thursday brought the largest single-day spike in cases since September, with 322 new cases confirmed statewide, including 213 on Oahu. Thirty of those cases dated back to Dec. 20 and were belatedly reported by one lab, according to health department spokeswoman Janice Okubo, who did not specify the lab.

In an interview Thursday, spokesman Brooks Baehr said the health department supported Green’s plea to the public.

“We certainly agree. Now is not the time to be getting together with people,” he said. “Especially on Oahu. People aren’t supposed to be gathering in groups greater than five.”

Baehr said the department’s contact tracing team could not yet give details on the 322 cases confirmed Thursday. The consensus, he said, is that the increasing rate of infection has to do with social activity around the holidays. The health department reports new cases at a two-day lag, and people typically don’t get tested until several days after the virus has incubated and they experience symptoms, he said.

“More people are out shopping, gathering and traveling, so while we can’t pinpoint exactly what’s going on we do suspect it has something to do with the holidays,” he said. “While our contact tracers and investigators can’t tell us exactly what’s going on, we don’t like what’s going on. It’s trending in the wrong direction.”

The rate of new positive cases on Oahu has outpaced the testing positivity rate statewide. About 4.5% of people on Oahu tested positive for COVID-19 during the last week, compared to 3.5% statewide.

Pharmacist Davis Zheng gives Yasuko Nakamoto the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Craigside Place. January 5, 2021.
The state’s vaccination campaign is underway, with at least 25,000 shots delivered. Pharmacist Davis Zheng gave Yasuko Nakamoto the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at her 15 Craigside residence on Tuesday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Mayor Rick Blangiardi said Thursday in a statement that Oahu’s current restrictions on gatherings and businesses will stay in place. The island is currently in Tier 2 of its reopening plan — businesses and restaurants still must adhere to certain capacity limits and bars must stay closed.

A weekly report issued by the health department Thursday documents several clusters under investigation by the Disease Outbreak Control Division.

Officials highlighted several outbreaks on Oahu, including one caused by an unspecified gathering that infected 27 people and other clusters that have sprouted at a local food supply company, a construction or industrial company and a restaurant.

In Maui County, a single “bar or nightclub” has led to six cases, a Maui gym cluster led to three cases and a Maui restaurant was the site of a dozen infections.

The largest outbreak on Maui involves the Harbor Lights condominium, where at least 75 people have been infected, Baehr said.

Three skilled nursing facilities and one assisted living facility on Oahu have reported cases within the past two weeks, but health officials did not provide details about the scope of the outbreak at each facility. Those facilities are Hale Nani Rehabilitation & Nursing Center, Hale Ho Aloha, Aloha Nursing and Rehab, and Hiolani Assisted Living Center at Kahala Nui.

More COVID-19 cases could hinder the state’s effort to expand a major vaccination campaign already underway, according to Daniel Ross, a nurse at Queen’s who leads the Hawaii Nurses’ Association. If infection trends continue, fewer health workers who got sick would be available to administer them, he said.

A corresponding uptick in hospitalizations may be coming, Ross said.

Queen’s Medical Center staff sits on benches with plexiglass partitions during COVID-19 pandemic. December 10, 2020
The Queen’s Medical Center has served as one of the largest hubs for COVID-19 patient care on Oahu. The hospital is currently dealing with an outbreak of cases among several dozen staff and patients. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Hospitals including Queen’s are slated to be vaccination hubs. Medical workers, first responders, and kupuna (elders) older than 75 are next in line.

The Queen’s Medical Center, which was the first hospital to administer vaccines to its medical personnel in December, has inoculated 5,700 of its staff so far.

Statewide, health authorities report Hawaii has received 83,000 vaccine doses and at least 25,500 of those have been administered.

Baher, the DOH spokesman, said that is an undercount dating to Saturday. But he said he could not yet specify how many vaccines were distributed and to whom.

Health workers are riddled with anxiety, Ross said. The Queen’s Medical Center has operated as many as five COVID-19 care units in the past. Currently three COVID-19 units are in operation, along with another intensive care unit.

Hospital representatives would not answer questions about the current outbreak or the hospitals’ testing regimen for staff, visitors, and patients, but said the hospital plans to conduct routine testing to prevent more disease spread.

Twenty-seven health care workers and 12 patients at Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu tested positive during the two weeks that ended Wednesday.

Ross said he heard four more nurses tested positive Thursday.

“No matter how much surveillance we do, there are going to be cases that slip in,” Ross said. “Obviously, people see the hellhole that is Los Angeles right now and pray Hawaii doesn’t go that way. The fear is we’re going to end up where they are, where they’re rationing care already.”

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