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Hawaii Updates: Case Count At 574; Visitors Key To Safe Reopening; Inmate Populations Declining

Walking and running on state beaches are no longer allowed under Gov. David Ige's latest emergency order.

Updated: 4/18/2020, 6:38 p.m.


The state's confirmed and presumed positive coronavirus cases number 574 today, up 21 from the previous day, according to the state Department of Health's latest daily update. The death count stands at nine. Most of the new cases resulted from a cluster at McDonald's restaurants in Kona on the Big Island.

Oahu's case count is now 382, Maui's 102, Hawaii Island's 61, Kauai's 21 and Molokai's 2. No cases are pending determination of county and six were diagnosed out of state.

Travel-related cases have dropped and community-associated cases have been slowly rising.

Kailua-Kona McDonald's cluster now at 29

Twenty-nine people have confirmed cases of COVID-19 tied to the two McDonald's restaurants in Kailua-Kona, the state health department said in a news release today. They include 17 employees and 12 household members.

The department is tracing contacts of those newly testing positive and monitoring previously confirmed individuals who are in isolation or quarantine. The two restaurants at Kona Commons and Kailua-Kona Walmart remain closed.

The health department has said it is unlikely customers were infected because of social distancing measures that were in place at the restaurants.

Health director: Visitors key to safe reopening

While the stay-at-home orders remain in effect, state Health Director Bruce Anderson says the decision to restrict visitors has been a crucial factor in keeping the number of COVID-19 cases to a minimum.

He says those restrictions have resulted in a protection that has been significant, but that is also temporary.

“That’s not likely to be continuing forever. And when we allow for travel back and forth to Hawaii, we’re going to see the disease introduced again—and we need to be ready to respond quickly to cases that occur and hopefully we can keep the disease under control," Anderson said.

"But we have some special circumstances here that have resulted in great success in keeping the curve down. At the same time, we’re very vulnerable to having the disease re-introduced.”

Anderson says it is important to have procedures in place to guard against the spread of COVID-19 before the state re-opens to visitors.

Yesterday's Hawaii Highlights: No More In-Person Public School Classes; AG: Stay-At-Home Order Extension Likely; Eviction Moratorium Set

Gov. David Ige says Hawaii is still some time away from considering any steps toward re-opening.

Ige said Hawaii has not yet met the guidelines for states to reopen issued by President Trump this week, particularly a downward trajectory of documentary cases within a 14-day period.

--HPR's Bill Dorman

More visitors arrive in islands

Another 98 visitors arrived yesterday in the state despite the ongoing, mandatory 14-day quarantine for all arriving passengers, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. The 486 passengers also included 184 returning residents, 123 crew members, 41 intended residents such as military personnel, and 40 transiting travelers. 

DPS: Jail population decreased by over 600 inmates since March

The state Department of Public Safety says the inmate population at all correctional centers dropped by 619 from March 2 ro April 17. The decreases follow efforts to limit the numbers admitted to the jails due to concerns of potential COVID-19 outbreaks in the facilities.

DPS said in a news release that all of the decreases followed "independently issued court orders."

The department reported the following population decreases:

  • The Oahu Community Correctional Center decreased by 317 inmates, leaving the population there at 884 and below its 954 operational capacity. 
  • Maui Community Correctional Center declined by 140 inmates, bringing its population to 310 and below its operational capacity of 301. 
  • Hawaii Community Correctional Center decreased by 112 inmates, bringing its population to 283 against its operational capacity of 226.
  • Kauai Community Correctional Center decreased by 50 inmates, leaving a population of 93 compared to its operational capacity of 128.

Hundreds more inmate releases are sought by the state Office of the Public Defender. On Monday, a list of probationary and pre-trial inmates are due to the Hawaii Supreme Court for possible release. County prosecutors have three days to submit their objections. The courts will then decide by April 28 who can be considered for release.
Meanwhile, the Department of Public Safety has been processing 100 inmates for temporary transfer to the Federal Detention Center to ease overcrowding.

Maui Memorial cluster grows to 42

The investigation continues into a cluster of COVID-19 cases at the Maui Memorial Medical Center.

State Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson says 42 individuals have tested positive for the disease. That includes 27 staff members and 15 patients, all traced back to a single case.

“This outbreak appears to be the result of a single person who went to work while ill. And actually continued to work while they were ill," said Anderson. "We’ll continue to urge people to stay at home if you’re sick. That’s probably the most important thing you can do — to protect your co-workers and others. Working while ill can have devastating effects not only on your fellow workers, but the entire community.”

Anderson has previously said that contact tracing shows the cluster of COVID-19 cases at Maui Memorial Medical Center took place over several weeks.

--HPR's Bill Dorman

Governor's latest order bans walking, running on state beaches, counties decide own policies

The state's latest social distancing restrictions are raising questions about whether people can walk and run on the beaches.

Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said in his daily video update today that the county is seeking clarification about the new state policy while Maui Mayor Michael Victorino said Gov. David Ige's latest order is bringing changes.

"“The Governor stated that his proclamation only allows water activities, and does not allow walking or running on the beaches for exercise purposes,” Victorino said in a statement. “My proclamation previously allowed exercise on the beaches, so this is a notable change for residents.”

But according to a state Department of Land and Natural Resources news release today, the governor's latest supplemental emergency order establishes that it's "against the law to walk or run on state beaches."

Then it adds: "Beaches under individual county jurisdictions may have different rules."

Asked if this meant that the counties could decide what policies to follow for their own beaches, the state COVID-19 Joint Information Center said that was correct. "We would recommend verifying policies for beaches and parks under each county's jurisdiction," the center said by email.

DLNR said law enforcement officers were out on state beaches today educating the public about the latest mandate that closes state beaches except to cross them to get to the ocean for exercise like swimming and paddleboarding.

In the Waimanalo area, two fishermen who were standing at least six feel apart were allowed to continue their activity but a couple lounging on beach chairs were not, according to the DLNR release.

John Silberstein, DLNR  Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) supervisor, said he answered a lot of questions "as many people appear unaware of the new restrictions" and that some officers wrote citations.

The supplemental order also requires customers of essential businesses and employees who have contact with customers and merchandise to wear face coverings. The City and County of Honolulu and Kauai County already had similar requirements in place.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

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

Editor's note: We’d like to hear how you’re coping with the latest developments in dealing with the spread of the coronavirus. You can call our talkback line at 808-792-8217. Or e-mail us at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.

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