(BIVN) – Officials gave a frank assessment of the current COVID-19 situation in Hawaiʻi on Tuesday, during a Telephone Town Hall hosted by Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. The call, livestreamed to the public online, included Lt. Gov. Josh Green as well as Hilton Raethel, the President and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i.
“Unfortunately, we continue to see COVID-19 cases rapidly rising in Hawai‘i. We can’t become complacent. Every one of us can and must take steps to stop the spread of this virus by wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth, practicing physical distancing, and avoid gathering in large numbers,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “However, our state Department of Health needs to rapidly increase the number of contact tracers working every day to contain, isolate, and defeat this virus. There is no excuse for not having at least 400 contact tracers working all across the state to get our COVID numbers under control. We know that these solutions work. They’ve worked in other countries, and they can work here.”
Lt. Gov. Josh Green made the following statement to start the call:
We are experiencing a very significant surge here in Hawaiʻi, right now, of the virus. Today, as everyone saw, we had 144 cases. But probably much more important and telling is that because of the recent accumulation of cases – we have 1,200 active cases, right now – we now are actually seeing a surge at our hospitals. So, in the last 36 hours we’ve gone from 75 cases – plus or minus – in the hospital, to 138.
The reality of COVID has been – at least for us in Hawaiʻi – 11% percent of our individuals that have tested positive have ended up in the hospital, and this is a serious disease. I know some people feel a little differently about it, thinking it’s just a serious flu. But truth be told, people are dying of COVID-19 all across the world. And we’re trying to prevent that here in Hawaiʻi.
Green said that the current surge in the hospitals “is really disconcerting. It’s a problem,” he said. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better. And that’s why we’re going to have to get much more serious.”
“we’re not doing enough” on contact tracing, Green stated. He said:
Irrespective of what people may have heard, we’re simply not doing enough. We have a very small cohort of full-time people and this is the kind of time where we need to call in the troops. Have an army of contact tracers to help isolate the disease and help us with the public health need that we have. Because we will go from last month where we had about 1,300 cases in the month of July, to August where we are certainly going to exceed 2,000 cases this month maybe 3 or 4 thousand if we continue at this trajectory. Once again, that will mean about 11 of people will end up in the hospital.
I don’t need to tell you guys that we have limited resources. We have only 244 intensive care unit beds statewide, of which 100 are always filled because of heart attacks and strokes and so on.
“We will get through this, but we could go through some very bumpy times, in the coming days, because of the surge,” Green said, “and because we really are falling a little bit short in some areas. If it continues, I do think we will hear the words that we don’t want to hear, which is ‘lock down’. If it continues, if we don’t contain the number of cases soon, we’ll have no choice but to get more serious about lockdown measures, because that’s the only thing that has worked so far to keep the cases low.”
Gabbard then moved to Raethel, who leads the Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i, which is the non-profit association for Hawaiʻi’s state’s hospitals, nursing facilities, home care agencies, and hospices. Raethel stated:
We are very concerned about what is going on right now. We have done a phenomenal job in the last few months, as a state, of been able to manage this disease, of been able to keep it at bay. While we have had some deaths, certainly – and we’ve had a lot of people have gotten sick – overall, we have done a very very good job. However, we are on the cusp of a potential disaster in terms of what is happening here in Hawaiʻi.
It is still manageable, as of today. The lieutenant governor was talking about some of the numbers in terms of what’s happening in some of our hospitals, which is concerning. It is still manageable at this point in time, but within a week or a couple of weeks, if it continues at this rate, if our hospitals continue to fill up at the rate that they are filling up, if our infection rates continue to increase at the rate that they are increasing, we could be in very, very dire straights here in Hawaiʻi.
There are many reasons why we have done as well as we have, and people have done a great job because of social distancing, and hand washing, and taking care of themselves, and we have a great healthcare delivery system here in the state. Because we’ve had a relatively known low number of cases, when people who do have COVID-19 show up in our hospitals, they get all the attention that they need because we have enough doctors, we have enough nurses, we have enough therapists to take care of them. We have enough drugs to take care of them. That is why we’ve had a lot of very successful outcomes for people who have gotten sick. However, if our numbers continue to increase then the finite resources we have in terms of healthcare resources get spread over a much larger population, and that means individuals who are sick are not able to get the same level of care.
We saw this happening in New York. We’ve seen it happening in Florida. We’ve seen it happen in Texas. We saw it happen in Washington. So while we have a much better idea now of how to take care of people, there is still a finite number of resources to go around. We have a finite number of drugs we have, a finite number of personnel. So our concern is that if this infection rate continues to escalate, that we will not be able to provide the same level of care, simply because our resources get stretched too thin. We do not have enough drugs, we do not have enough other supplies, to take care of these people, and more people will die and our death rate will go up. Which will be tragic.
It is a pivotal moment in this pandemic. It is a pivotal moment in Hawaiʻi’s history of what is going on right now. Unless we as a state – and especially on Oʻahu because we’re doing much better on the neighbor islands, but on Oʻahu we really are at a critical point – and if we do not get this under control, we will have a lot more deaths and it will be people we know. It will be our families, it will be our neighbors, it will be our co-workers who are dying because we are not able to manage this disease. Which will be a real tragedy.