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Hawaii Updates: Cases At 37, 2 From Community; Ige Urged To Order Stricter Steps

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Updated 3/20/20, 4 p.m.

Latest coronavirus cases

The Hawaii Department of Health says the state total of confirmed and presumptive positive cases of the coronavirus now stands at 37. Two cases of community spread have been confirmed, officials said in an update Friday afternoon. The latest numbers reflect 11 new cases since yesterday. One is a child, the state's first young case of COVID-19.

State Epidemiologist Sarah Park said the two community-spread cases are not related but both are on Oahu, where population is the densest. The cases had no travel history or contact with someone who traveled that would suggest they got it from out of state, said Health Director Bruce Anderson.

There are now 28 cases on Oahu, 5 on Maui, 3 on Kauai, and 1 on the Big Island. All of the new cases result from private lab testing.

According to a state Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 news release yesterday, private labs have conducted about 1,000 tests while the state has "only carried out 40 tests." 

State health officials have been tightly limiting the number of tests it conducts to the most seriously ill cases, although it has the capacity to test hundreds of samples a week. Officials say they have done this to keep from running out of test supplies.

The Senate committee said private labs report that they are running low on supplies, a concern that has escalated nationwide as the limited number of test kits and components has slowed detection in communities.

City Council joins other leaders urging governor to quarantine visitors

Honolulu City Council Chairman Ikaika Anderson today sent a letter to Gov. David Ige on behalf of the council urging him to immediately impose a mandatory 14-day, self-quarantine on any arriving visitor and returning resident.

The council member are among the latest community leaders asking the governor to take more aggressive steps to stop the spread of the coronavirus in Hawaii, where most cases of COVID-19 have been travel-related.

The nine-member council also wants the Hawaii Tourism Authority and others in the travel industry to stop enticing tourists to the islands with discounted rates and advertising. Council members further called on the governor to stop entry of cruise ships from entering the state.

"We recognize these actions will have immediate and significant economic impacts, but we have grave concerns that a prolonged and widespread outbreak in out State will hurt our city for years," Anderson said in the letter.  

Democratic Party of Hawai‘i cancels walk-in primary 

The state Democratic Party primary scheduled for April 4 for walk-in balloting has been canceled in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“While we regret the need to cancel the walk-in voting locations, health and safety comes first during this challenging time,” said Democratic Party of Hawai‘i Interim Chair Kate Stanley in a news release.

The party has been sending out mail ballots to party membrs and will send another round for those who had planned to vote in person. The party urged members to mail in their ballots as soon as possible to avoid any additional disruptions.

The party has also rescheduled its state convention set for May 23-24 to Sept. 5-6.

Small business disaster loans available

The Small Business Administration has approved an economic disaster declaration for Hawaii, opening the way for businesses to apply for economic injury disasster loans, Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono said in a news release.

Information is available on the SBA website. A factsheet and more details on the agency's disaster program is also posted on its site.

State leaders urge Ige to impose shelter-in-place order, visitor quarantine

Hawaii Gov. David Ige is resisting calls by his lieutenant governor and legislative leaders to immediately order residents to stay at home and direct visitors into quarantine as the number of coronavirus cases in the islands continues to mount.

All 37 cases of COVID-19 confirmed or presumed positive in the islands as of Friday afternoon have been the result of travel. The exception are two of the latest cases said to be tied to community spread, according to state health officials. 

The dispute among top state Democratic leaders on whether it's high time to take drastic steps to stem the relentless spread of COVID-19 has been playing out for weeks but it boiled over publicly yesterday.

The tweeted comments from Lt. Gov. Josh Green, widely viewed as a likely gubernatorial candidate eager to take over after Ige terms out, carried added weight because he works as an emergency room physician. 

Later in the day, word came that state Sen. Clarence Nishihara, a Democrat who represents District 17 (Waipahu, Crestview, Manana, Pearl City, Pacific Palisades), had tested positive for the virus, the first legislator in Hawaii known to have contracted COVID-19.

That was followed by House Speaker Scott Saiki's highly critical letter to Ige characterizing the state response to the pandemic as "utterly chaotic" and observing there is "mass confusion among the public."

Saiki urged the governor to order a 15-day shutdown of the state, with residents sheltering-in-place and visitors placed in quarantine for that many days. He also called on Ige to prohibit nonessential interisland and out-of-state travel and to shut down all public and private schools, daycare centers and preschools.

See yesterday's updates: State lawmaker, Daniel Dae Kim among local cases; UH cancels commencement

If those developments weren't enough, state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz who chairs the Senate money committee, posted on Instagram that he and the state Department of Transportation had come to agreement on implementing a 14-day quarantine on people flying into Hawaii.

Hawaii Public Radio's Ku'uwehi Hiraishi asked the transportation department spokesman about a 14-day quarantine, and Tim Sakahara seemed at first to throw cold water on the idea.

"HDOT does not have the authority to just quarantine people for 14 days. We're making recommendations that could go into this plan, but for them to announce a huge plan is definitely premature, quite frankly," he said.

Asked if there is in fact a plan in the works, Sakahara said: "There's so much more to be done. We're working on a plan as far as the HDOT can do and has the authority to do. If it means screening people, we're more than happy to. It's always been the Department of Health's recommendation that wasn't necessary. There's a lot of logistics that need to be worked out with that."

When questioned about whether a quarantine of travelers flying into Hawaii would be possible, Health Director Bruce Anderson said he didn't think it would be realistic because it would be difficult to enforce.

In the end, however, it's the governor who would need to order any sheltering-in-place for residents and mandatory quarantine of visitors, however difficult and complex. As Saiki noted: "The directives of the Lieutenant Governor and Mayors are mere recommendations. As Governor, you are the only person in this state who has the direct authority to institute these actions."

And for now, the governor is not committing himself.

"Gov. Ige continues to work through all the options, including their potential benefits and consequences, to secure our islands and do what's best for our communities," said Cindy McMillan, the governor's communications director, last night by email.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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