COVID-19 Update: Hawai‘i Reports 55 New Coronavirus Cases, The Highest Daily Number for the State

Another woman dies; unions representing teachers and other school workers oppose the state’s plan to reopen public schools on Aug. 4; and Honolulu requires mask-wearing inside gyms.
hawaii gyms
Photo: Robbie Dingeman


Hawai‘i health officials today, July 23, reported a record spike in the number of COVID-19 cases as well as another death, marking the most cases recorded in a single day since the state first began tracking cases in late February.


Most of the cases are on O‘ahu: 50; followed by three on Hawai‘i Island; and two on Maui. The previous record number of cases in a day was 42 on July 11. Also, state health director Bruce Anderson says an elderly O‘ahu woman became the 26th person in Hawai‘i to die from the virus.


“These cases represent people from all walks of life and varied professions, indicating the apparent challenges of maintaining safe practices is widespread across the state,” Anderson says. “We are seeing more community spread on O‘ahu,” although he indicated the percentage of those testing positive for the virus remains very low, around 2%.


State epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park chided residents who are not taking precautions seriously: “Hawai‘i has done better and can do better; we all need to remember to maintain the safe practices in this COVID world.”


Both officials acknowledge the need to weigh the public health crisis with the push to revive Hawai‘i’s hard-hit economy as they advise Gov. David Ige on the best next steps for the state. Although Hawai‘i has maintained the lowest per capita number of cases in the United States, that has come while requiring a 14-day quarantine for most people arriving in the state, slowing tourism to a flicker of its normal economic power.


“Unfortunately, if we can’t get these numbers headed in the right direction, we may be facing the reimplementation of restrictions,” Anderson warned in a written statement. “No one wants that to happen and this is why it is so critical that everyone does their part, every day, every place in practicing safety for the sake of the health of all in Hawai‘i.”


Park says the common thread in tracking recent spread is that people are letting their guard down—not wearing masks or staying physically distant—when they see friends or get together with work colleagues, such as going to a birthday party or having drinks after work. “Our community still isn’t getting it together,” Park says. “We’re backsliding now.”


This comes as the labor unions that represent workers at public schools—the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association, United Public Workers and the Hawai‘i Government Employees Association—are calling for a delay in reopening schools now scheduled for Aug. 4. All three unions released a statement late Wednesday saying they do not feel the state Department of Education and the state Health Department have done enough to properly create and implement health strategies to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus on public school campuses.


The unions are asking the state Health Department to provide written guidance on the reopening of school buildings. Park deferred to CDC written guidance as sufficient. And the unions also are asking that “All faculty and staff are properly trained and provided sufficient supplies, equipment and protocols to ensure our facilities are kept clean and our faculty, staff, and students are safe.”


Maui Mayor Mike Victorino on Monday sent a three-page letter to Gov. Ige expressing concern about the school reopening plan. He raised questions about communication, an apparent requirement that each school be responsible for procuring the majority of personal protective equipment, a face mask policy that would call for students to be masked outdoors but not indoors, and other issues.


Victorino said communication over these vital issues among the various interests has been confusing for families and the entire community. “Concerns have been raised over the differences in what is being communicated or required by the DOE, State, Hawai‘i State Teachers Association and the counties on what the expectations are for students to return to school,” he wrote. “Helping teachers and administrators navigate this complex web of governmental requirements and expectations would be beneficial.”


Today was also the first full day of added restrictions for O‘ahu gyms. Yesterday, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell amended his emergency order to require that people working in and working out in gyms wears masks or face coverings. Previously, the order had allowed removal of the masks during active exercising. State health officials have said at least 20 cases were linked to two unidentified gyms that were inconsistent about masks and social distancing.


A longtime Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant died this week in Los Angeles, where he was based, after participating in a Honolulu training exercise associated with 17 employee cases as well as the clusters at the two gyms. Hawaiian Air president and CEO Peter Ingram this week sent a message to employees mourning the death of Jeff Kurtzman, 60, and remembering his decades of service: “He embodied the values of aloha and mālama that we hold dear.”


Read more stories by Robbie Dingeman