HONOLULU (AP) — While officials strive to conduct 70,000 COVID-19 tests in two weeks, Hawaii’s most populous island is returning to a stay-at-home order amid a surge in daily cases.
Oahu, where Honolulu is located, has seen triple-digit positive cases in recent weeks, an alarming spike after Hawaii had enjoyed the lowest infection rates in the nation per capita earlier in the pandemic.
With help from the federal government, Oahu officials will conduct surge testing across the island with the goal of testing 5,000 people daily for two weeks, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced Tuesday.
The tests will be free and no symptoms, health insurance or doctor referral will be needed, said Honolulu Fire Chief Manuel Neves.
During that time, Oahu will be under a stay-at-home order where gyms and dine-in restaurants will be closed. Religious services will be allowed to continue. Most schools have been providing online instruction.
The island’s parks and trails are already closed, while jogging or walking will be allowed on neighborhood sidewalks, Caldwell said.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams joined Caldwell at Tuesday’s news conference. He noted Hawaii’s Pacific islander and Filipino communities have disproportionately affected.
Pacific islanders make up just 4% of the population but about 30% of positive cases, Adams said, calling the statistics “astounding.”
For a while, Hawaii’s positive rate was less than 5%, but it’s now reaching 10%, Adams said. “That means you’re at a turning point,” he said. “That means things could get really bad.”
As of Tuesday, Oahu had 4,472 of the state’s 4,699 active cases. The spike has included an outbreak at the state’s largest jail.
State Sen. Clarance Nishihara on Tuesday criticized Gov. David Ige’s administration for failing to widely test inmates swiftly enough to prevent the outbreak.
Nishihara said the state Department of Public Safety on Aug. 7 ordered that everyone at the Oahu Community Correctional Center be tested. He questioned why this decision wasn’t made earlier, given concerns about the spread of the virus at the facility.
“It seems like someone dropped the ball from the senior administration, in this case, the governor’s office,” said Nishara, who is the chairperson of the Senate’s public safety committee.
Nishihara said the first inmate who tested positive was not immediately separated from the general population, allowing COVID-19 to spread. He also said the inmates weren’t required to wear masks.
“I think it’s clearly one of lack of leadership or foresight, all of which has led to what we have today,” Nishihara told reporters during an online press conference.
As of Monday, the Department of Public Safety said 242 inmates and 47 staff members at the jail had tested positive for the disease. The jail housed 968 inmates in early August.