Virus restrictions tighten: Mayor tests positive for COVID-19 as state sees record surge of cases

Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth.

Indoor gathering restrictions will tighten yet again on the Big Island after Mayor Mitch Roth, along with several thousand other Hawaii residents, contracted COVID over the weekend.

Until this weekend, the day with most new cases reported in a single day in Hawaii was Sept. 2, when 1,060 new cases were recorded statewide. But, on Christmas Eve, 1,808 new cases were reported and then, on Boxing Day, the state exceeded 2,000 new cases for the first time ever, reaching 2,177 new cases.


On Monday, only 1,384 new cases were reported, 103 of which were on the Big Island. The same day, Roth announced that he had contracted COVID himself over the weekend after his son, visiting for the holidays, tested positive.

“I had no symptoms when I got tested,” Roth said. “I wouldn’t have gotten tested at all if my son hadn’t tested positive.”

Roth said that, because of the spike in cases, he would once again reduce the maximum allowable gathering size from 25 to 10 people on the Big Island. The newly imposed restrictions, he said, would go into effect this week and likely remain in effect at least partway through January.

“Our big concern right now is not overwhelming hospitals,” Roth said.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green praised the Big Island during a livestreamed interview Monday for managing its hospital rates so far, saying that Hilo Medical Center only had two COVID patients Monday. But, he said, the spike in cases — largely fueled at this point by the omicron variant — will likely get worse before it gets better.

“The sky is not falling, although I am concerned,” Green said during the Honolulu Star-Advertiser livestream. “We have to also look at who is in the hospital … two weeks ago, we had 34 people (in the hospital), 10 of whom were vaccinated fully. Today, we have exactly 100 people in the hospital statewide … and 38 of those individuals have had two shots.”

Those who have contracted COVID despite being vaccinated are proof that the initial vaccine is not enough to build immunity, Green said, explaining once again that residents need to receive a booster in order to minimize chances of hospitalization.

“This will ultimately be a three-shot series for everybody,” Green said. “We’ll probably move the definition of ‘completely immune’ or ‘completely vaccinated’ to a full three shots sometime in the next couple months.”

Green said he expects there will be more than 200 COVID patients in Hawaii hospitals within two weeks, but added that he hopes that will be the peak.

But despite the rapid spread of the omicron variant, Green stopped short of discouraging people to visit Hawaii.

“If we were to put criteria out there that would prevent any travel here…we won’t see travel here and then the hotels will close, the restaurants will close, and we will have both a surge of COVID and we’ll have unemployment and suffering and isolation,” Green said. “So the best thing we can do is protect ourselves by getting the booster.”

In fact, Green said omicron’s reputation as being a fast-spreading, but less severe variant of the virus is more reason to limit restrictions this time around.

“Each time you have one of these (cases) where a virus hits you, you do build up immunity, and that’s how the planet deals with these outbreaks,” Green said. “That’s why omicron is inevitable. We were going to see extra mutations and variants in places that didn’t have good immunity.

“Coronaviruses in general go about three to five years before a population — us — can develop enough immunity to stop it,” Green continued. “And we’re now headed into year three. So we will probably see some variants in years four and five, but each time, they’ll be less severe and be closer to just the flu or just a common cold virus.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at

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