Gov. David Ige said he is “optimistic” that by the end of this week some COVID-19 restrictions can be lifted as the number of cases and hospitalizations has been “trending down.”
Ige made the announcement on his Facebook page Thursday morning but did not say what restrictions could be lifted, nor did he provide an exact time frame, stating only that “updates will be made soon.”
Jodi Leong, a spokesperson for Ige, said via email Thursday afternoon that the governor has “tentatively scheduled a news conference” for today regarding relaxing COVID-19 restrictions, but that media would have to wait until then for details.
She did note that Ige and county mayors are looking at loosening restrictions on the county level, such as gathering limits. These are part of emergency orders by each mayor or county, Leong said.
In his Facebook post, Ige pointed to the surge of cases in August and September and said “while tough, restrictions helped ease some of the burden our hospitals were facing as we neared capacity in many facilities.”
“It was a frightening prospect for many who worried their loved ones wouldn’t get the care they needed when they were admitted to our hospitals,” Ige said. “The restrictions are a tough sacrifice for everyone to make for their communities, and I believe your sacrifices saved lives.”
He also thanked residents for their work, patience and cooperation.
“I know many of you are ready to get back to normal, and we’re taking steps to get there,” Ige said.
On Oct. 1, Ige announced he was extending the state’s emergency proclamation for COVID-19 through Nov. 30, noting the state was not out of the woods yet despite a decline in cases in recent weeks.
Leong explained Thursday that the proclamation covers statewide elements such as the Safe Travels program and the statewide mask mandate, which will continue to remain in place.
The restrictions Ige may announce relaxing today are not from the state emergency proclamation but from the emergency orders by each mayor or county.
Last week, the governor denied all of Mayor Michael Victorino’s proposed rule changes to ease restrictions in Maui County, though Victorino elected to move ahead on his own with allowing spectators to attend certain youth sporting events outdoors.
State Health Director Dr. Libby Char said last week that conditions have been improving statewide but that Hawaii still had had “a few weeks to go before we expect to be back at a level where we can manage ourselves with our current resources and people.”
Maui Memorial Medical Center, the island’s only acute-care hospital, has been “seeing a significant reduction in COVID hospitalized patients,” with numbers in the single digits for more than a week, said spokeswoman Tracy Dallarda on Thursday.
On Aug. 15, the hospital treated a high of 40 COVID-19 patients. The previous single-day record was 31 COVID-19 patients on Aug. 28, 2020, during the first wave of COVID-19, according to Dallarda.
As of Thursday, there were seven COVID-19 patients at the hospital, including two in the ICU and one on a ventilator. All seven were not vaccinated, according to the hospital’s website. On Wednesday, there were five COVID-19 patients being treated.
Dallarda said the last “double-digit day” of COVID-hospitalized patients was 11 on Sept. 29.
“The worst of the current surge is past us now, but we urge everyone to stay vigilant, get vaccinated, avoid crowds and be part of the solution to the end of this pandemic,” she said.
She also acknowledged that the cold and flu season is coming around and said that it is safe to get both the COVID-19 and flu vaccines together.
Dr. Michael Shea, chief medical director of Maui Health, which operates Maui Memorial, received his booster dose and flu vaccine on the same day, Dallarda said.
As the surge subsides, Maui Health still has some of the traveling relief nurses who were brought on with funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in August to help with the increase in cases.
Dallarda said that Maui Memorial received a little over 40 of those relief workers, and the hospital is currently negotiating with the Healthcare Association of Hawaii to try and extend the agreement for 10 nurses beyond the FEMA contract of Nov. 13.
Some nurses are scheduled to finish their eight-week contract on Oct. 16 and others will finish later, Dallarda said.
The hospital has also offered positions to all the nurses who have helped, though Dallarda didn’t have numbers on how many might stay on.
The relief nurses and some respiratory therapists arrived at a critical time when the hospital census was high, COVID-19 patients were sicker than previous surges and the clinical and nursing teams were exhausted, Dallarda said.
“Many were working overtime, picking up extra shifts and not taking time off — all to take care of very sick patients,” she added.
She said the strain was all over the nation and that the relief nurses and respiratory therapists allowed the nursing team to take a breather, get needed rest and conduct other duties that had been put aside to care for very sick patients.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.