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Continued rise in COVID-19 cases may necessitate renewed restrictions

OUR COUNTY

Maui County residents took the threat of COVID-19 seriously and did an outstanding job of following safety protocols and leveling the curve, with only 10 positive cases in May and June. But the number of cases in July has more than tripled for Maui County, an alarming surge upward that tracks similar increases statewide and nationally.

This increase demonstrates, as Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang has said, that the virus spreads very quickly. One day you think you’re doing well, and the next day you’re in deep trouble.

Based on confirmed recent gatherings of hundreds of people on Maui who were not wearing face masks or observing physical distancing, we expect there will be more cases in the coming days.

With businesses closing or struggling to stay open, I’m well aware that more travel restrictions are bad news for our hard-hit economy. The stakes are high, especially for the many thousands of our residents who are out of work because of COVID-19 impacts.

Low case numbers in May and June led a growing sense that we were on the road to recovery and the reopening of businesses, parks, pools, golf courses and interisland travel without quarantine restrictions. But, with the current rising number of cases, we may be forced to re-evaluate what should or shouldn’t remain operating. Renewed COVID-19 restrictions would further cripple our economic recovery.

We are aware of large gatherings at the beach, residences and other places in our community, and these need to stop. We cannot lower our guard. We must continue to be vigilant, keep physical distance, maintain good hygiene and wash hands frequently with soap and water or hand sanitizers.

Statewide, a more relaxed attitude toward safety precautions has led to multiple household and other clusters associated with social functions such as at-home parties, beach parties and gatherings, Father’s Day celebrations, Fourth of July gatherings and co-workers sitting in long meetings while removing face masks to eat or drink.

I have often said: “Only you can prevent the spread of COVID-19!”

What I mean by this is that our community’s health and safety depends on everyone taking personal responsibility to practice what Dr. Pang calls the “good habits” or the “six Ws.”

These are:

• Wear your mask.

• Watch your physical distancing, at least 6 but preferably 10 feet of separation.

• Wash your hands.

• Make sure you’re well before going out in public.

• Wipe down and clean/disinfect frequently touched surfaces.

• Go to wide, open spaces, away from other people.

Such health and safety precautions haven’t gotten through the thick skulls of a few knuckleheads in our community who carelessly endanger themselves and our community. You can spot these scofflaws partying in large groups without social distancing, not wearing face masks or having their face gear hang below their chins.

Nevertheless, I’m proud of the vast majority of our residents who truly care for our island home and diligently safeguard the health of their friends, family and neighbors. You could see their impact during our close call last weekend with Hurricane Douglas. They heeded warnings, took care to clean their yards, sheltered in place and assembled emergency kits.

We had no major damage, although the storm downed trees and power lines. I hope this experience of being relatively unscathed doesn’t breed complacency when the next big storm blows in. We always need to stay prepared, especially during hurricane season. The worst disaster is the one you’re not prepared for.

Mahalo to our utility workers, first responders and county workers for keeping our community safe in times of trouble. We cannot thank them enough for their dedication and public service.

Aloha!

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Saturdays of the month.

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