In an interview with New West Broadcasting’s Sherry Bracken on Monday morning, August 3, Lt. Gov. Josh Green said that the current number of active cases, 922 total in the state right now, more than 900 of them on O’ahu, can lead to the State having to do another shutdown. Green said we’re in an enormous surge, the riskiest time we’ve been in, with high double or low triple digit numbers for the last several days, that we are at a crossroads. He said if we do not get containment of the virus now, it will exceed the capability of the State Department of Health to trace the cases and ensure those who have been exposed are isolated, we may need to get back to a total shutdown. (Note, L.G. Green sent a followup text to Ms. Bracken after the morning interview, and revealed there are 207 new cases, some of that because yesterday’s numbers were incomplete.)
State Director of Health has insisted for weeks it has enough contact tracers, but on Thursday, Gov. David Ige acknowledged that the state does NOT have enough contact tracers. L.G. Green said the state needs to hire all of the contact tracers who have been trained. Immediately, the National Guard is going to bring on around 68 people who can do contact tracing, as that’s imperative to curb the spread. Lt. Governor also said that of the 77 tracers mentioned on the State Department of Health web site, in reality, they are not all working on contact tracing.
Green said the State has received a $50 million grant from the CDC as part of the CARES Act, to be applied to contact tracing and testing, so he said the State has enough funds to do the job. He said the State Department of Health is putting in a proposal to the CDC and one of the proposals is to enhance the State Lab. Green said there is also funding coming from the legislature and the counties. He said the appropriate thing is to have all contact tracing centralized through State Department of Health so they can keep proper records.
Green is concerned that he feels some in the State Department of Health feel it’s already out of control. But he remains hopeful, as vaccinations are coming, and we just need to control the situation until then.
Right now, there are outbreaks in Pacific Island communities on O’ahu. A recent spike in that community in Kalihi now represents around 33% of the cases. He said we need to contact everybody with whom the COVID-19-positive person has been in contact within the first 12 to 24 hours–the individuals who are positive and everybody in contact–and have them quarantine and test.
Lt. Gov. Green acknowledges that the State needs people who can go out into the community as trusted resources to help educate and contact trace. He would like to see the Community Health Centers (such as Bay Clinic, West Hawaii Community Health Center, and several others on the Big Island) which are geographically dispersed, and already have people of all ethnicities who can get into the communities. He acknowledged they would need additional funding to take on such a task. He said the tracing needs to be done immediately as the cases, especially on O’ahu, are increasing exponentially. On Friday there were 842 active cases–this morning, there are 922 active.
Green said the cost of having people in a hospital for the average COVID-stay, 10 days–at $45,000 a day–if it can be prevented, pays for contact tracers.
Regarding the decisions parents need to make regarding sending keiki back to schools: L.G. Green said right now the Big Island is quite safe. He said State DOH needs to provide very clear guidelines on what will happen if a child gets COVID or comes to school sick.
If case counts (as on O’ahu) are rampant, and without adequate testing, he feels many parents will opt for online learning. He also said with Big Island having one active case this morning, Big Island may need different decisions than will O’ahu.
Regarding reopening to tourism on September 1, which Gov. David Ige has said is his goal, even though there have been no specifics: L.G. Green said part of the key is testing, and although right now it’s hard to get a confirmed test result from the mainland within three days, there is a lot of new testing and testing research going on—including here in the state–so he believes we will be able to get more testing to help ease the way to reopen tourism. He said because of the mainland surge it may be possible our state will focus more on Japan as the first travel partner.
Green pointed out that most of the current cases are not related to mainland travel, but are community spread.
He also said a key is whether we can track and trace cases, and whether we have adequate hospital capacity. We do have adequate hospital capacity right now. As of Sunday there were around 15 people in the hospital with COVID, including 10 on ventilators. But Green said with the upsurge in cases, we may see another 100 into the hospital in the next weeks, based on past history.
Regarding incoming travelers: whenever we open, there will not be 30,000 people a day coming here as they did in 2019–he said maybe 6,000 to 7,000.
He acknowledged the Feds and State need to provide relief to the unemployed, to the landlords who are not getting enough money to pay their mortgages.
L.G. Green said this is taking a bite out of us, but COVID-19 will get under control, and our economy underpinnings are solid and we can recover.
Green said he knows the Department of Health is working hard but we need to have our contact tracing and other processes in place, and if we’d had that sooner, we could have controlled the current spike far better. He acknowledged, though that this is a new experience for everybody. He said as we reopen, things will be different in hotels and tourist activities.
L.G. Dr. Green said the state citizens are to be commended for their work in wearing masks, staying physically away from others, and practicing the kind of hand washing and other cleanliness practices that have helped keep our count relatively low.