Hawaii governor advises against travel; Oahu suspends large gatherings

Hawaii’s governor is telling people to limit travel to and from the islands, and officials on the state’s most populous island have suspended large gatherings as the daily Covid-19 case counts in August continue to outpace any other point during the pandemic.

Gov. David Ige, in response to the recent rise in cases and packed hospitals, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in an interview streamed live on Monday that “now’s not a good time to visit Hawaii.”

“I’m asking all residents and visitors alike to restrict travel, curtail travel to Hawaii to essential activities only,” he said.

The governor added that a statewide shutdown that tightly restricts travel into the islands would be a “last resort.” Local officials are moving ahead with tighter restrictions, though.

County of Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi, whose jurisdiction includes the entire island of Oahu, announced Monday that all large, organized gatherings will be suspended for four weeks starting on Aug. 25. The suspension is set to end on Sept. 22, but the mayor said in his announcement that lifting the ban on gatherings will depend on the conditions and Covid-19 case rate at the time.

“First and foremost, after extensive discussions with the Department of Health and healthcare providers, we believe large gatherings are the fundamental cause of communal spread, and consequently we will suspend all large gatherings for 28 days,” Blangiardi said in a statement.

The suspension of large gatherings includes trade shows, conferences and meetings, conventions, concerts and other live events, ticketed sporting events, sports tournaments and gatherings associated with weddings and funerals.

On Sunday, the state posted a record for Covid-19 cases in a single day, at 893. As of Aug. 21 Hawaii has averaged 671 new cases per day over the previous week, a 29% increase from the seven-day average on Aug. 9.

The recent spread of Covid-19 has been largely attributed to community spread. According to Hawaii Department of Health data, travel-related Covid-19 cases in July made up about 14% of cases, with only 1% linked to nonresident travelers.

Blangiardi said the increased case count over the previous few weeks has strained area hospitals and healthcare workers. The Queen’s Medical Center West Oahu declared a disaster over the weekend as a result of reaching capacity, and health experts believe others may follow suit based on current projections, according to the County of Honolulu statement. 

People are still permitted to gather in groups of up to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors. The order does not pertain to organized recreational sports, farmer’s markets and craft fairs with no live entertainment, or religious services, but indoor services will be expected to maintain distancing between groups up to ten.

More than 90% of recent cases have been linked to the delta variant, the Department of Health reported, and officials are considering new restrictions if the numbers do not stabilize and fall in the coming weeks.

Under Hawaii’s Safe Travels program for screening those entering the state, since July 8 travelers from the U.S. mainland have been exempt from Covid-19 testing and quarantine requirements if they present proof of full vaccination.

Last week, Mitch Roth, mayor for the Island of Hawaii, requested in a letter to Ige that pre-arrival testing be reinstated for all travelers coming to Hawaii regardless of vaccination status.

“The consistent rise of Covid-19 cases within the state of Hawaii and across the country has reached record heights and has put an unbearable strain on our health systems and communities at-large,” Roth wrote. “On Hawaii Island alone, our hospitals are at capacity and are unable to in-take any more critical care patients.”

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