Council leaders call for lockdown: Chung, Eoff worry virus is getting out of control

  • Karen Eoff

  • Aaron Chung

  • Harry Kim

  • Hawaii County CXOVID-19 trend (Hawaii Department of Health)

The Hawaii County Council leadership is asking Mayor Harry Kim to institute a temporary stay-home order to stem the rising tide of coronavirus infections on the island.

Council Chairman Aaron Chung and Vice Chairwoman Karen Eoff say they’re hearing from constituents who are concerned about the surge of the virus after so many weeks of low to no new positive test results. The council members believe a two-week shutdown could help the county get back on track.

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The island saw 17 new COVID-19 cases identified Thursday — the 10th consecutive day of double-digit increases — five people with the disease have died and 230 cases remain active.

Kim issued a new order that closes county beaches and parks starting today and continuing until Sept. 18, to stop people from congregating in groups. People can still access the ocean for swimming, fishing and food-gathering, as long as they go directly to and from the water without hanging around on the beach or shoreline.

But the mayor stands fast to his contention that a lockdown, similar to what Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell did after cases started spiking there, simply isn’t necessary. There are more cases because there is more testing going on, he said.

“At this point, all the information shows no justification to lock down the Island of Hawaii at the present time. I feel like what we’re doing is responsible enough to handle this,” Kim said Thursday. “We don’t just look at the numbers; we look at what’s causing it.”

Chung, who represents Hilo, said he has expressed his concerns with Kim’s COVID-19 team but he hasn’t spoken directly with the mayor. He said he would be hesitant to float a resolution before the council urging that stricter measures be taken because it would amount to “grandstanding” at the mayors expense and might actually hurt his chances of achieving the desired result.

“I commend him for closing the parks and beaches ahead of the Labor Day holiday, but I disagree on his reluctance to issue a stay at home order and I strongly feel we have to do more,” Chung said. “I believe a short stay-at-home order for a little more than two weeks is necessary in order for us to stabilize the situation which seems to be getting out of hand fast. … Less than a month ago, we were doing quite well.”

Eoff, of North Kona, agrees corrective action is needed.

“With the numbers rising so quickly on Hawaii Island, we need to implement preventative measures now, including stay at home and work from home directives,” Eoff said. “Proactive decisions now will keep us from experiencing a crisis with our health-care providers and a tipping point for hospitals.”

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, an emergency room physician who’s still taking shifts at West Hawaii hospitals, also thinks caution is needed.

“The Big Island runs the risk of a major outbreak like Oahu has experienced if changes aren’t made quickly,” Green said. “Large gatherings will lead to major spread.”

Chung acknowledged that restaurants and other businesses are being upfront with the public, alerting them when someone tests positive, even when the state Department of Health does not. They’ve closed their doors and sanitized and followed protocols Kim set up in March.

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Kim said the main problem is the public letting its guard down and “getting lax.” Refraining from gathering in groups, maintaining six feet physical distance and wearing masks will go a long way toward bringing the virus under control, he said.

“We need everybody to be responsible,” Kim said. “All we need is more cooperation from the public.”

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