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Officials urge caution during holiday gatherings

Both Mayor Harry Kim and federal health authorities are urging Big Island residents to avoid extended family gatherings on Thanksgiving to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

With coronavirus cases rising nationwide, Kim said the large family gatherings typical of the holiday season must be curtailed in order to prevent another spike in cases on the Big Island, although he admitted that the county has little way of enforcing such measures.

“Hawaii’s people must be aware that the vast majority of positive cases in the last month were largely in Kona,” Kim said. “They must be aware that they were mostly locals, and a lot of them were in families.”

While there are concerns that the ballooning number of cases on the mainland will lead to an increase in cases in Hawaii as travelers arrive here, Kim said the real concern is community spread among island residents, which will be exacerbated by large Thanksgiving gatherings in enclosed spaces.

“Holiday or not, these are the causes of the spread of the virus,” Kim said. “In my family, on Thanksgiving for the last 50 years, we’ve had gatherings at my house, which meant 20 and 30 people. And there’s some sadness about this, but we won’t be doing that this year.”

A pair of scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agreed with Kim’s sentiments during a Thursday presentation to members of the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce.

“We have three holidays coming up, and I know that in Hawaii that means family gatherings where you’re with 50 people you know, and another 50 who just came for the party,” said CDC epidemiologist Ann Buff.

Buff, along with CDC behavioral scientist Katherine Center, told HICC members that limiting the number of people in an enclosed space — along with continued policies of mask wearing, social distancing and personal hygiene — is vital to prepare people and businesses for the impending rise in cases this winter.

“Get as many people as you can outside,” Buff said, explaining that sunlight and airflow cause respiratory droplets to dissipate more quickly, limiting how effectively they can transmit the virus.

Nationwide CDC guidance advises people to host outdoor Thanksgiving gatherings as much as possible, limit the number of attendees to allow 6 feet of space between them at all times, and increase indoor ventilation.

Center and Buff pointed out that Hawaii is uniquely capable of complying with these requirements, while cold weather is forcing people on the mainland indoors.

Kim said he believes Hawaii and the Big Island are still in better shape than other states, pointing to Alaska, whose total population is only half of Hawaii’s, but whose cumulative case number exceeds Hawaii’s by more than 4,000.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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