Officials warn of dire consequences if state cannot get outbreak under control

Lt. Gov. Josh Green suggested Tuesday that Gov. David Ige is likely to push back the loosening of out-of-state travel restrictions as the state buckles under an ongoing spike in COVID-19 cases.

While Ige set Sept. 1 as the date for when trans-Pacific travelers with a negative COVID-19 test can waive the current mandatory 14-day quarantine, Green said during a Tuesday press conference that he thinks the governor is “pulling back from that, psychologically,” after several recent days of more than 100 new cases.

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Green said he and the rest of the state will continue to operate under the assumption Hawaii will reopen in September until Ige officially announces otherwise. However, he added the increasing number of cases could have dire consequences for the state if left unchecked.

Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said he is very concerned about the capability of the state’s hospitals to handle the influx of new cases. While he said the load is “still manageable” for now, if the number of cases continues to grow at its present rate, the number of COVID cases requiring hospitalization will, within mere weeks, outnumber the available emergency beds in the state.

Should this happen, Raethel warned, it will have a snowball effect, where the state’s health care resources will be stretched thin dealing with more people, and COVID-positive patients might not get the care they need, meaning more people will die.

“This is a pivotal moment right now for our state,” Raethel said. “If we don’t get this under control, people will die and it will be people we know. It will be our family and friends who die, it will be our loved ones who die, it will be our coworkers.”

In order to prevent this scenario, Green said the state needs “an army” of contact tracers to better track the community spread of the virus and access to rapid COVID testing resources, which can return results within an hour. Green also suggested the possibility of additional controls on interisland travel to limit community spread between islands.

Green added that he is still open to the possibility of allowing travel to Hawaii from a country that has better control of the virus than the mainland U.S., such as Japan. Haneda and Narita international airports in Japan have implemented pre-flight rapid testing procedures for passengers, allowing for immediate confirmation of a COVID-positive passenger.

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Meanwhile, during the same press conference, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said she expects residents will receive a second federal stimulus check and potentially more relief funds pending ongoing negotiations between Congressional Democrats and Republicans regarding a multi-trillion-dollar coronavirus relief bill.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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