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Hawaii Updates: Cases Up 5; RIMPAC Shortened; Oahu Companies Cleared To Open; Antibody Tests Offered

Chief Mass Communication Specialist Keith Deviney
U.S. Navy

Updated: 4/30/2020, 12:11 p.m.

Where Hawaii stands

Health officials reported five new cases of the coronavirus today, continuing a trend of single-digit increases in recent days that is spurring efforts to reopen the state. Hawaii's case count is at 618. Deaths stand at 16.

Oahu's count is now at 399, Maui County at 116, Hawaii County at 73, and Kauai at 21. 

RIMPAC exercises to be scaled down, kept out to sea 

The world’s largest maritime military exercises will still take place this summer in waters around Hawaii. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they will be smaller than usual and shorter than usual.

The U.S. Navy announced the Rim of the Pacific exercises will also be postponed.

Instead of starting in late June, they will now be held from August 17 to 31 and they will stay on the water.

In the words of the Navy’s official news release, it will “ensure the safety of all military forces participating by minimizing shore-based contingents.”

RIMPAC is usually held once every two years—and the last one involved some 25,000 forces from 25 countries.

Gov. David Ige said he was pleased by the decision, adding that “If conditions change later this summer, we will reassess and respond appropriately.”

Ige had sought a delay in the military exercises during the COVID-19 emergency.

--HPR's Bill Dorman

City gets governor's OK to reopen certain businesses

Select Honolulu businesses will be allowed to reopen tomorrow, with modifications to how they operate.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced yesterday that Gov. David Ige has approved the city's request to amend its stay-at-home order and allow businesses such as car dealerships and golf courses to reopen.

Ige’s latest emergency order limits the power of county mayors and requires they get his approval for any changes to their stay-at-home orders.

Amendments to Caldwell's order allow the following businesses and operations to restart with conditions:

  • Certain real estate services. All real property sales and management activities must be accomplished by remote/electronic means when possible. Restrictions and permitted real estate services are outlined in mayor's Emergency Order No. 2020-09.
  • New and used car and truck dealerships. Sales and leasing activities are allowed with restrictions, such as no test drives;
  • Automated service providers. Service providers that do not require human interaction between the service provider and the customer, including for example, fully automated car washes.
  • Mobile service providers. Businesses that provide service on a mobile bases with no human interaction between the service provider and the customer, including mobile pet grooming and car washing/detailing businesses;
  • Services provided on a one-on-one bases. Businesses that provide services such as private tutoring, certain music instrument lessons, etc., on a one-on-one basis, that comply with social distancing requirements.
  • Public and private golf courses within the city operating under the guidelines issued by the Professional Golfers’ Association’s “Procedures for Reintroduction to the Game and Business of Golf.” 

Grave site visits have also been added to the city's list of essential activities.
--HPR's Casey Harlow

Ige explains reasoning for which businesses can open

Mobile pet groomers can restart their businesses tomorrow but not hair salons as the state begins to lift restrictions under the COVID-19 emergency orders.

So what is the reasoning behind which businesses get to reopen?

Gov. David Ige laid out his thinking yesterday at a media briefing. He says there are health conditions that have to be met first, such as the availability of quality testing and contact tracing.

Then there are the businesses themselves and the degree to which they might spread COVID-19 in their operations.

“What is the risk that the business posed to infecting others and exposing and spreading the virus," Ige said officials asked in making their decisions. "And the risk of the businesses have three components. The first is the intensity of the contact between customers and employees or even other customers."

He said the more intense the face-to-face contact, the higher the probability that the virus can be spread. A second component of risk is the number of people that  interact with a given business. Concert halls or a movie theater would pose higher risks.

The third consideration in weighing risk is how the businesses could operate to further reduce the risk.

"For example, and we've seen it with restaurants. We said restaurants could continue to operate if they did take out only and no dine in," Ige said.

"So we are talking together, seeking advice from healthcare professionals to examine the risk, and then working with the mayors and others in the community to determine which businesses and operations are safe to be restarted in the context of trying to get our communities back to a new normal.”

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell has announced which Oahu businesses can reopen beginning tomorrow. They include private music classes, car dealerships, and public and private golf courses.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

Antibody tests that can show immunity offered by labs

Antibody tests have been held out as potentially the key to fully reopening the state.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green says one private company, Clinical Labs of Hawaii, will soon be offering them. The tests could help the state decide how to reopen the state broadly to visitors.

"It will very likely be helpful with background testing choices of the Department of Health, but also we are going to have to ask the very tough question of what is the standard to reopen for tourism. And we're all going to focus on safety," Green said.

"But we have to be sane about it, too. And we will be able to in the coming weeks give you our best feelings and we hope to get input from the community and everyone out there, how far they want us to go to keep our borders safe. That's one way to use those antibody tests."

Antibody tests are different from the standard COVID-19 swab tests. They show that a person had the virus in the past. Scientists believe those who got infected build up some immunity, although there have been cases of people catching the virus a second time.

Antibody testing could also show how widely the virus has spread. And if it hasn’t, that could help officials decide whether to lift the stay-at-home and quarantine restrictions now  in place.

--HPR's Ashley Mizuo

Self-employed benefit application website opens

Those who are self-employed or independent contractors can apply for jobless benefits at the state labor department's PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) site.

The benefits were provided under the federal CARES Act and covers employees not normally included in traditional unemployment claims programs. These include gig workers, freelancers, part-timers, those with insufficient work history to qualify for regular benefits, those laid off by churches and other religious organizations and not eligible for regular benefits under state law, and workers who have exhausted or don't qualify for regular or extended benefits under state or federal law or under the program called the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC).

According to the labor department, the PUA site is currently taking in pre-applications before it begins to process the submittals, which should be around May 15. At that time, applicants will receive an email about their next steps.

The information required in applying includes income that will be validated against Hawaii tax records. Officials ask that applications be accurate and completely filled out to speed their processing.

--HPR's News Staff

Blood Bank, hospitals experiment with convalescent plasma treatment

As hospitals wait for a COVID-19 vaccine, a new statewide program is experimenting with plasma as a treatment for those who become sick.

The Blood Bank of Hawaii joined a coalition of local hospitals to collect what’s called convalescent plasma from recovered coronavirus patients.

CEO Kim Anh Nguyen says the Blood Bank began receiving the plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients earlier this week to see if it has promise as a treatment.

"Patients who are severely and critically ill need to have therapies that can help take them from critically ill off the ventilator, and severely ill out of the hospital," she said. "Convalescent plasma has been known and tried for almost 100 years as an option, before other options – more specific options like pill and injectable medication – and it has worked in the early stages."

Nguyen says this an experimental treatment for critically and severely ill patients – and is not a cure.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

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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