HONOLULU — Hawaii continued to experience a sharp spike in the number of COVID-19 cases on Monday, prompting Gov. David Ige to warn that the state may have to once again delay the start of a pre-travel testing program for travelers if the trend doesn’t change.
“If there are too many cases here and we haven’t stopped the increase, then we would be looking at delaying the September 1st date,” Ige said, referring to the current timeline for allowing out-of state visitors to bypass a 14-day traveler quarantine if they test negative.
The traveler testing plan was initially due to begin on Aug. 1, but Ige pushed back the date amid a rise in cases in several mainland states and a decline in testing supplies available to laboratories.
Hawaii reported a record 207 additional cases of the disease on Monday. State officials said more than half were the result of delayed reporting over the weekend due to issues at Hawaii’s clinical laboratories. Even so, the number comes after multiple recent days of triple-digit increases.
Ige said he’s monitoring the number of cases in Hawaii and around the country as he considers what to do about the pre-travel testing program. He noted that hotels have said they’d like to receive three to four weeks’ notice before the program begins while airlines say they’d like two weeks’ notice.
“Clearly, we would want to see a stopping of the increase in the number of new cases here in the state and hopefully begin the trend downward,” Ige said at a news conference. “As I’ve said, though, we can only be successful … if we come together as a community.”
Bruce Anderson, the director of the state Department of Health, said the percentage of tests with positive results has gone up to 5%-6% in recent days from 1%-2% earlier in the pandemic. Epidemiologists view the percentage of positive tests as a leading indicator of the disease’s prevalence in the community, he said.
Of the total, 198 were from Oahu, seven were from Maui and two from Hawaii Island.
Anderson said in most cases, the new infections can be traced to people who have let down their guard.
Anderson and Ige stressed the state had sufficient contact tracers to keep track of those who have tested positive and the people who have had close contact with them.
About 70 Department of Health employees were working as contact tracers as of last week, but that number is now up to 105, Anderson said. The National Guard has about 60 personnel who are available as needed. The University of Hawaii, meanwhile, has so far trained 400 people for the job, and the state is in the process of hiring some of them.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.