Gov. David Ige has ordered the partial activation of four units of the Hawaii National Guard to provide support during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“As many of you know, the Hawaii National Guard is homegrown,” said Hawaii National Guard Joint Task Force commander Brig. Gen. Moses Kaoiwi Jr. during a news conference Friday. “We are the sons and daughters of Hawaii, and the Hawaii National Guard has consistently played a major role in supporting the communities of Hawaii in any type of disaster.
“And as our state faces a daunting challenge with the COVID-19 virus, we are here again today to provide the necessary support to the state of Hawaii.”
Hawaii National Guard members will assist the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and the state’s COVID-19 Joint Information Center with their responses to the outbreak, he said.
The Guard also will provide warehouse support for the inventory and distribution of medical equipment, supplies and personal protective equipment from the national stockpile.
Soldiers and airmen also are being activated to assist with airport screenings. According to the state, the Guard will help conduct passenger medical screenings and with administrative paperwork.
Statewide, there are currently 130 active guardsmen, with an additional 162 being called up for active duty.
Kaoiwi said the Hawaii National Guard also might be needed for additional assistance, like supporting law enforcement and enforcement of the governor’s supplemental proclamations and executive orders, among other tasks.
The action comes as more confirmed and presumptive positive cases are identified throughout the state, and another virus-related death has been reported.
An elderly Oahu resident, who had been hospitalized in critical condition and on life support for several weeks after returning from Washington state, was Hawaii’s third COVID-19-related death, the state Department of Health announced Friday.
“We offer our sincere condolence to his family and friends at this difficult time,” state Health Director Bruce Anderson said in a news release. “His death, the third death in Hawaii, is a tragic reminder of the virulent and contagious nature of this virus. We all must all work together to stop the spread of this deadly disease. Stay healthy by staying home, and if you must go out, always keep a six foot distance from others.”
Ige also expressed his condolences during the news conference Friday.
“Today marks the second Friday of my statewide state-at-home mandate,” he said. “I know this is not getting easier. As I’ve said before, unfortunately, it is going to get worse before it gets better. With the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Hawaii increasing each day, and the heartbreaking loss of three of our fellow residents, we all need to remain vigilant and do our part in stopping the spread of this virus and flattening the curve in our state.”
As of noon Friday, the number of COVID-19 cases across the state climbed to 319, up 34 from the previous day.
All of the new cases are adults, and two are visitors.
A majority of those cases, 31, are from the City and County of Honolulu, bringing the number of positive tests on Oahu to 237.
Maui County reported nine new cases, including the first on Molokai, for a total of 36, and one new case on Kauai brings that island’s total up to 13.
According to the state, two new cases were reported on the Big Island, bringing Hawaii County’s total to 20, with six of those released from isolation.
There have been no hospitalizations or deaths from the disease on the Big Island.
However, numbers released Friday morning by the county Civil Defense agency said 24 people have tested positive, 15 of whom have recovered, with the remaining nine quarantined at home and monitored by the DOH.
The state’s COVID-19 Joint Information Center did not know why there was a discrepancy between the state’s numbers and those being reported by Civil Defense.
However, Janet Snyder, spokeswoman for Mayor Harry Kim, said numbers vary because of timing, and that the county receives its tally directly from the island’s district health officer.
Snyder said Kim or Civil Defense “is actually talking to the district health officer for this island every day.”
There have now been 12,283 individuals tested by clinical and state laboratories, according to the state.
Meanwhile, as the state’s 14-day mandatory self-quarantine order for all out-of-state and interisland travelers continues, only 543 people arrived at Hawaii’s airports on Thursday, of which 89 were visitors.
Only two flights arrived in Kona, bringing 32 people — eight crew, two intended residents, 20 residents and two visitors.
Also on Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people wear cloth face coverings or masks in public settings where other social distancing measures might be difficult to maintain, such as in grocery stores and pharmacies.
The CDC cautioned against wearing surgical masks or N95 respirators, which should be reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders.
Anderson said maintaining 6 feet of social distancing, however, remains the most important factor in slowing the spread of the disease, and coverings are not substitutes for remaining at home.
While there is not data to show homemade cloth masks are effective for personal protection, the state said wearing a fabric mask can help prevent the spread of infection when the mask is worn by someone already infected with the novel coronavirus.
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.