Gather carefully

LIHU‘E — Kaua‘i is now allowing outdoor gatherings of up to 100 people and indoor gatherings of up to 50 people, with the Gov. David Ige’s approval.

Mayor Derek Kawakami announced a 13th administrative rule on Friday, acknowledging the risk of large gatherings with the Thursday announcement of the island’s first case of COVID-19 in more than 10 weeks.

“Given our new cases, we do have some hesitation in relaxing gathering rules. However, as we’ve said all along, we know we cannot stay home forever. We need to figure out a way to co-exist with this virus,” Kawakami said in a Friday public address.

The County of Kaua‘i echoes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health experts on the steps to take to avoid catching COVID-19 — steps like hand-washing, sanitization and mask-wearing — with Kawakami explaining Friday: “If we continue to practice very simple behaviors in our daily lives, we can help mitigate the risk of exposure.”

Though larger gatherings are now allowed on Kaua‘i, the county still says people should stay home and avoid those bigger gatherings if possible.

As of Friday afternoon, there is only one positive case of COVID-19 on Kaua‘i, and the total cumulative cases the island has seen remains at 22.

State Department of Health Kaua‘i District Health Officer Dr. Janet Berreman addressed that single case in a Friday public address, saying the individual is currently at an isolation center and family members were relocated to a quarantine facility and were being tested for the virus Friday.

“There is no evidence that this individual traveled recently, so we are considering this a community-acquired case,” Berreman said. “However, our investigation and contact-tracing are ongoing, and it’s possible we will learn that this individual was in contact with someone who had traveled recently.”

Updates will be provided as details are confirmed.

The DOH reported 27 new positive cases of coronavirus Friday, which is the highest number reported since April 2. DOH Director Dr. Bruce Anderson said, “Despite our recent spike in cases, all of our testing and contact-tracing procedures are working exactly as intended. Additional cases are being identified and added to the case count as a result of aggressive investigations and contact-tracing.”

The majority of new cases reported over the past week are associated with community clusters in large households with crowded conditions, adult-care and long-term nursing facilities, and with a church group. State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park said virtually all of the newly reported virus cases are due to community spread, often from a group setting.

“These clusters really emphasize our call for the continuation of safe practices, including physical distancing, using face coverings, frequent hand-washing, and staying home and away from others when sick,” Park said.

Many of the recent cases have been associated with clusters. One faith community in Waipahu, having gatherings in a home, has prompted health authorities to reiterate safe practices for people being together in crowded conditions.

There has been speculation that the recent rise in cases is due to large protests, but state health experts say there hasn’t been evidence of a link between the two yet.

Park said: “At this time there is no evidence that recent protests have led to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Hawai‘i. Nonetheless, we continue to strongly encourage physical distancing and the use of face masks when people are engaged in practicing first amendment rights, or while in any other large gatherings, with people who don’t live in the same household.”

The DOH says testing is based on a low threshold to test. In other words, once a resident or caregiver tests positive and the health investigation determines the source of infection, DOH supports broader testing of exposed health-care givers and residents in conjunction with public health investigation.

Part of the DOH’s investigation procedures continue to be extensive contact-tracing to get close contacts of an infected person into isolation and monitoring. The department and its partners continue to conduct outreach and education for impacted individuals and communities.

Anderson said: “Once again, we fully anticipated an increase in COVID-19 cases associated with more community activity and business re-openings. This is the critical time, with this week’s resumption of interisland travel and the re-opening of other air travel at some point in the future, for all of us to act with care, to protect our loved ones, particularly our kupuna, and to continue physical distancing, face masks and all of the safe practices that have now become our new norm, at least for now.”

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Jessica Else, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or jelse@thegardenisland.com.

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