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Hawaii Coronavirus Updates: UHERO Updates Economic Forecast, Community Tests To Begin This Week

AP Photo/Heng Sinith
Passengers of the MS Westerdam, owned by Holland America Line disembark from the MS Westerdam, at the port of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.

See the latest updates for 3/11/2020.

The news on the Hawaii front of the coronavirus battle is swiftly changing. Here are live updates on local health, economic and societal impacts from the spread of COVID-19.

Where Hawaii stands

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Hawaii remains at two. The state announced the first case on Friday and the second case on Sunday. Both are presumptive positives, meaning the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will need to confirm the results, but Gov. David Ige said the state is proceeding as though the cases are positive.

The state can test up to 250 cases a week. But only about two dozen people have been tested, according to the state health department, raising complaints that the Hawaii has been too restrictive in approving cases to be screened. The tests have been conducted at the state Laboratories Division in Pearl City and at Tripler Army Medical Center.

State officials said Tuesday that private labs can begin testing and that may address concerns over Hawaii's restrictions on testing.

Meantime, 52 people with symptoms are self-monitoring at home under the supervision of the health department. 

UHERO updates its forecast

The University of Hawaii's Economic Research Organization updated its first quarter economic forecast for the state, saying the COVID-19 outbreak will have a more significant impact on Hawaii tourism. Researchers say it initially based its forecast on a SARS-like scenario. But in the last two weeks, the state has seen a sharp drop in international passenger counts, and a slowdown in domestic passenger growth -- indicating more severe impacts.

UHERO expects visitor arrivals to Hawaii will decline by 13% in the second quarter, and 7% for the year as a whole. That will also impact visitor spending, which they estimate will drop by 17% in the second quarter. The organization says all islands will see an impact, but particularly Honolulu because of its reliance on international markets.

UHERO says the spread and impact of COVID-19 could be more severe and longer-lasting than in its original forecast.

State to conduct random tests in community

Hawaii health officials said Tuesday they plan to conduct random tests starting this week to see if the coronavirus is in the community.

The state has two confirmed cases of COVID-19. Both involved patients who had traveled out of state.
But there's concern that the state has focused on individuals with serious illness while there may be others who are not as sick and could be spreading the disease.
"We share that concern and this program is actually intended to focus on those who we may not know about, people who haven't come to our attention from physicians, because they didn't have serious illness, or meet the criteria that we were required to use in our earlier testing programs," said Health Director Bruce Anderson.
The so-called surveillance testing of the local community will begin with about 60 people. Eventually, the state wants to test 200 people a week in all counties.
Any patient who has symptoms but does not have the flu may be included in the program.
Private labs can now begin testing as well. Most health insurers plan to cover the cost of the tests if they are ordered by a doctor. Medicare and Medicaid will also cover doctor-ordered tests.

State $10.5M emergency funding bill before lawmakers

The Hawaii Senate has approved a measure that funds the state health, defense and transportation departments to deal with the coronavirus crisis. The $10,568,750 funding bill --S.B. 75 -- is before House legislators and was referred Monday to the Finance Committee.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, are scheduled Tuesday afternoon to tour the Maui Memorial Medical Center. The hospital is preparing to treat expected cases of COVID-19. So far, the only confirmed Hawaii cases have involved patients on Oahu.

Senators J. Kalani English, Roz Baker and Gil Keith-Agaran and representatives Lynn DeCoite, Lt. Gov. Josh Green, and Maui Mayor Mike Victorino will be meeting with hospital and health providers.

Westerdam due in Honolulu; state says not to panic

The Westerdam cruise ship is scheduled to dock in Honolulu on March 16 after leaving Manila, Philippines, on March 2.

The ship has no passengers and is stopping in Hawaii to refuel before continuing to Alaska on March 17. All crew members have tested negative for coronavirus.

Several countries in Asia blocked the Westerdam from docking after it left Hong Kong on Feb. 1. It was accepted in Cambodia on Feb. 14. One American passenger was thought to have tested positive for the illness, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later ruled the result a false positive.

In a statement Monday, Hawaii Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Sakahara explained that no crew members have left the ship since Feb. 26. When the ship reaches Hawaii, the crew will have been at sea for over 14 days, the incubation period for the illness.

“The Coast Guard will monitor the vessel through the local agent prior to mooring at Honolulu Harbor to ascertain health of crew," Sakahara said. "While no issues are expected, preventative measures are being taken.

“If the crew is experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19, an additional health check will be conducted in close coordination with the CDC.”

On Monday, Lt. Gov. Josh Green called for a 60-day halt to cruise ships visiting Hawaii.

"It's time that we actually pause the cruise ships and certainly the cruise ships should not allow anyone, anyone to disembark if they have the smallest symptoms," he said.

However, Green noted that the federal government and the U.S. Coast Guard have the final call in stopping cruise ships. So far, the State Department has only recommended that the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions avoid cruises.

Sakahara said ships are required to report on board health concerns to the Coast Guard before docking.

“That way the Coast Guard and federal authorities can determine what kind of action should be taken,” he said. “If there was a ship coming toward Hawaii, the Coast Guard could hold the ship out at sea and get them test kits to determine if those passengers on board did test positive for coronavirus. So that can happen here in Hawaii.”

Sakahara noted that any blanket ban on cruise ships would need to come from the federal government, but he added: “You don’t necessarily see state lines being closed off, and them saying there’s no cars from Washington state being allowed to travel into Oregon state right now.

“It’s a similar situation with cruise lines and airplanes."

Holland America Line that operates the Westerdam said in a statement on its website last week that it has "consistently stated there was no evidence or indication of any cases or suspected cases of COVID-19 (cornavirus) on Westerdam." 

'Iolani cancels school trips

‘Iolani School’s Head of School Dr. Timothy Cottrell told parents Monday that the school is canceling all domestic and international travel for the rest of the academic year because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The school is also conducting extensive preparations should it be necessary to close, the school said in a statement, emphasizing there are no current plans to close.

St. Patrick's Block Party called off

The popular St. Patrick's Day celebration hosted by Murphy's Bar and Grill in downtown Honolulu has been canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement on its website, Murphy's said it will be the first time in 33 years that the event won't take place. The party helped drive business in Chinatown, already ht by the economic side effects of the epidemic, and supported local nonprofits.

"However, we have a responsibility to our community and to visitors and residents to make their health and saferty our utmost concern," the establishment said. The bar and grill remains open as usual.

Correction: An earlier version of this story had a lower number for tests conducted by the state and Tripler Army Medical Center. 

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