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New cases a wake-up call

News that two Maui residents were being treated for COVID-19 at Maui Memorial Medical Center served notice that while the island has done an admirable job flattening the curve, we are far from out of the woods.

It had been a month and a half since the hospital treated a coronavirus patient. Confirmation came Tuesday, the same day the state Department of Health reported Maui had four new coronavirus cases overall. On Thursday, a record 55 cases were reported for the state, including two more on Maui. We wish the patients speedy recoveries and also good health to their caregivers.

The billion-dollar question is, are these Maui cases isolated or the first of a surge? Surely Maui Mayor Michael Victorino, hospital administrators and island school principals would love to know. Every day they walk a tightrope of hoping for the best and planning for the worst.

Word of the hospitalizations likely sent shivers down the spines of the folks who know just how precarious our situation is out here in the middle of the Pacific. An outbreak like the ones raging in Florida and Arizona could quickly overwhelm our medical system and personnel.

School is scheduled to start Aug. 4 and a reopening to tourism is slated for Sept. 1. To be feasible, both need relatively calm COVID waters, certainly not a tsunami of cases.

It is concerning to see so many Maui residents lowering their guards by not physical distancing or properly wearing masks in public. Tales of visitors breaking quarantine rules, or avoiding the safety measure altogether by jumping on interisland flights, ought to give shivers to Maui’s bar hoppers and partygoers. They could learn they’ve been laughing it up next to “Patient Zero.”

COVID-19 is an equal opportunity virus. Summer was supposed to make it go away, but hasn’t. Young people were said to be less susceptible, but the majority of new cases are people less than 45 years old. Scientists don’t know why, but young folks seem more likely to become superspreaders, many of whom are asymptomatic. The virus has killed more than 143,000 people in the United States and cases continue to rise at an alarming rate.

As humans, it is natural to long for the social interactions, rituals and routines that the pandemic has disrupted. Like it or not, the virus is not going to magically disappear. Until we have an effective vaccine and enough of the population is vaccinated, the threat will remain.

After a tough spring that saw six COVID-19 deaths on Maui, we have had a good run this summer. So far. Though there is no predicting when the next surge will strike or how widespread it will be, it is almost certain to occur. Whether it is a tsunami or a blip is up to us.

By properly wearing masks, physical distancing, washing hands, staying home when sick and avoiding large gatherings, we do our part to keep the curve flat and the island safe.

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