Governor David Ige’s press conference on Thursday was packed with data about the rapid decline in tourist arrivals, medical supplies available to Hawaiʻi, and new COVID-19 cases, plus the news that the Army Corps of Engineers is conducting site assessments in case alternate medical facilities are needed.
Ige was joined by several officials, including Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who was in the news this week for his recent absence from the governor’s news conferences. Green’s appearance followed a meeting Wednesday night in which differences were reportedly resolved between Ige and Green, the only medical doctor among top state officials. Thursday, the two were mutually effusive in their remarks. Green praised Ige for his “bold move” in establishing a 14-day mandatory quarantine for all arriving Hawaiʻi passengers. Ige called Green’s role as a liaison between the state and health providers “vital.”
Green detailed the state’s current store of medical equipment after “scouring the country for supplies.” As of March 26, he said, Hawai’i currently has up to 500 ventilators — “our biggest concern” — 18,095 masks, 3,800 face shields, 20,000 pairs of gloves, and 22,000 surgical masks. The islands have 3,031 licensed hospital beds in total, plus the ability to add another 500 beds if needed.
The Army Corps of Engineers is working to assess various sites, including the 204,000 square foot exhibition center at the Hawaiʻi Convention Center on Oʻahu, to transform into field hospitals of sorts if a surge in COVID-19 patients overwhelms hospitals.
With a well-documented shortage of doctors on the island, Green said officials would be reaching out to everyone from retired physicians to newly graduated medical students if such facilities were required. Currently there are 4,000 doctors practicing in Hawaiʻi and 9,000 physicians licensed in the state, he said.
Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Sakahara said Hawaiʻi’s 14-day mandatory quarantine for all arriving airline passengers had been successful in immediately reducing tourist numbers. “Passenger counts have dropped drastically,” Sakahara reported. “There are multiple flights that are arriving today with zero or one passenger on board and many of them are coming in with fewer than 10 people on the entire flight.” He said the majority of incoming passengers were returning Hawai’i residents. Before the quarantine began at 12:01am Thursday, passenger numbers this week had already declined 87 percent over the same week in 2019. Sakahara said he expected those numbers to drop even further later this week.
The arriving passenger quarantine is the first of its kind ever done by any U.S. state. When asked about glitches in informing arriving passengers about the quarantine, Ige said, “This is a brand new procedure and I know we’ll get better every day.”
State Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson was asked about three newly announced COVID-19 cases, among the 106 total today, that were classified as “pending.” He explained that those were cases where officials couldn’t find “a source” for the infection. “They haven’t had a travel history or a contact.” When asked what islands those cases were on, Anderson said he didn’t know. “The [new] cases that we’ve looked at today are here on Oahu [8 new cases], where most of the cases have occurred, or on Maui [with 1 new case for a total of 14]…so by elimination you can determine that it’s probably on Oahu or Maui.”
Maui anesthesiologist Dr. Kai Matthes, co-founder of a group of doctors who petitioned for “a seat at the command table” for Lt. Gov. Green, said he was encouraged by Green’s appearance at the news conference. “It’s very important that any decision-making about this crisis is directed–or at least heavily influenced–by a healthcare professional who is an expert in the field. This is especially important when it comes to disease mitigation and healthcare resource management.”
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