Tuesday records big spike in COVID-19 numbers

State Health Director Bruce Anderson called the 41 new COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday “a wake-up call for all of us that it is still a serious threat in Hawaii.”

Tuesday’s total was the largest reported daily number of cases since the state’s pandemic emergency was declared March 4, eclipsing the previous high of 34 cases on April 3.

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“Over the past months, most of the cases have been associated with known cases or clusters of cases. We’re now seeing more cases without a history of exposure to other known cases or clusters,” Anderson said during Gov. Ige’s Tuesday afternoon media conference.

“These high numbers are a concern for the department, and they should be for everyone else,” he added. “They’re an indication that the disease activity in Honolulu is circulating more widely. … We anticipate that these numbers will likely continue at these levels with the activities in the state, with more people out and about. We’re enjoying businesses being opened — and with the prospect of our schools opening soon (and) college students coming back to Hawaii — this all depends on our ability to keep the disease in check and to provide a safe environment for those activities to continue.

“… We must adhere to masking and physical distancing, as no amount of contact tracing and testing will effectively combat the respiratory pathogen that is now circulating in our community.”

Tuesday’s numbers, which brought the statewide total of reported coronavirus cases to 1,071, include 38 new cases on Oahu, two on Kauai and one on the Big Island.

Ige said the number of new cases is no surprise.

“We knew … as we reopened our economy, we would get an increased numbers of cases,” Ige said. “I know that you’ve seen many stories across the country about governors and states reopening too quickly and moving to threaten the health and safety of … their communities. I want to assure everyone that the state of Hawaii did not open early, and we have always been driven by the data and the conditions that we see.

“Even with this new case count, Hawaii continues to lead the nation in the lowest number of per capita cases, the lowest infection rates, and amongst the lowest fatality rates in the country,” he added.

Some of the new cases are part of clusters, according to Anderson and Dr. Sarah Park, the state epidemiologist. Park said one cluster is associated with a business trip taken to the Big Island by a business group for training. She said the group spent time in Hilo and Kona, and an investigation is ongoing.

“We’re still trying to determine … other commonalities, especially among those that have been identified as positive out of the group,” Park said. “There have been a few already now, and the rest of them are all in quarantine and being monitored.

“At this point, we’re not certain, exactly, where the exposure happened. But the timing of the trip relative to the onset begs for the fact that the exposure likely happened at least during travel, if not while they were on the Big Island. The big question is how they were exposed.”

According to Park, there are no reported Big Island cases that are thought to be associated with or the cause of the cluster.

The two health officials said another cluster is associated with a gym. Park declined to identify the gym, saying the business is cooperating and officials don’t believe it to be an imminent danger to public health.

Anderson said he thinks there will be an upcoming spike in the number cases that can be linked to gatherings and activities that took place over the July 4 holiday weekend.

The state is planning to reopen the islands Aug. 1 to trans-Pacific travel, with no quarantine for those who arrive showing a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours prior to travel. Details are still being worked out, officials say, but they are optimistic the state’s health care system is prepared for another increase in cases.

“When you look at the number of cases in Hawaii that are acceptable, if you will, one of the measures we always consider is, ‘Can we manage those cases?’” Anderson said. “It’s not going to be zero. We’re living in a COVID world. We’re not going to see the same situation we saw two weeks ago when we were shut down and we were seeing one or two cases a day.

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“We probably won’t see that again for a long, long time.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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