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Hawaii Updates: 28 Cases; Mayor Says Not Safe To Reopen Now; No Halt In Testing, Epidemiologist Says

daniel_k_inouye_airport_AP honolulu airport
AP Photo/Caleb Jones
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Updated: 7/10/2020, 4:06 p.m.

Where we stand

The state Department of Health today reported 28 new COVID-19 cases, following 36 cases yesterday and Tuesday's record 41 infections. Of today's new cases, 25 are on Oahu, 1 on Hawaii Island, 1 on Maui and 1 diagnosed outside of the state.

Twenty-two of the latest infections are residents and two are non-residents; the residency of four others are not known.

Health officials said there have been 17 cases to date involving two Oahu gyms. State Epidemiologist Sarah Park told Hawaii News Now the outbreaks were linked to one infected person participating in exercise class at one gym and someone infected from that class went to another class at the other gym.

Park said gyms that operate with poor ventilation and without social distancing can be breeding grounds for infections, including the coronavirus.

"It is imperative that all gyms follow the safe practices required by state and county governments," Park said. Health Director Bruce Anderson added that COVID-19 is spread person-to-person by aerosols and droplets when people breathe, cough and sneeze. 

"Perhaps most important is to stay home if you are feeling ill. Don't try to sweat it out," he said.

The state's total coronavirus case count now stands at 1,158 with 19 deaths. Oahu has 867 cases, Maui County has 131, Hawaii County has 98 and Kauai County has 43. Nineteen residents have been diagnosed outside of the state. One hundred twenty-five people have required hospitalization and 847 people have been released from isolation.

No decision on rolling back reopening

State and county officials are still evaluating whether to push back the August 1 reopening date for visitors, allowing them to avoid the mandatory 14-day quarantine if they test negative for COVID-19 before their flights.

Gov. David Ige issued a statement Friday saying the review is continuing.

“The mayors and I have had productive meetings this week about the pre-travel testing program. We are assessing the current situation in Hawai?i and on the mainland, and we’ll make an announcement when we are satisfied that the plans will protect the health and safety of our residents and guests.”

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said yesterday that he doesn’t think it is safe to reopen now.

There are growing concerns due to the rising cases on the Mainland and in the state. There’s also limited testing capacity at Diagnostic Labs, the state’s largest lab, due to a reagent supply shortage.

Caldwell says the many unanswered questions are making a decision on the reopening difficult.

"Do you just say it’s suspended and not say a new date? Do you push it off by two weeks, or a month? And in a month, do we know what it’s gonna look like in California? Big unknown there," he said at a press conferece.

"In a month, do we know what it’s gonna look like here? A big unknown there. And the reagent for testing, if the demand is heavy in the continent, we may not get enough supply here. So there’s a lot of unknowns to try to make a decision on. Yet, we know the visitor industry needs a firm decision because they’re starting to plan, and they’re starting to spend money to get ready to reopen."

Caldwell says he could see the reopening date stand -- if more rigorous testing procedures are put in place. 

The City Council on Wednesday passed a resolution to delay the reopening if additional safety measures aren't implemented, such as requiring a second test after a traveler's arrival.

The shortage of reagents, needed in the COVID-19 tests, prompted Dr. Scott Miskovich of Premier Medical Group to call for a delay in the reopening.

Diagnostics Laboratory Services Inc. said Wednesday that the reagent supply problems have reduced its test capacity from 800 to 250 tests a day. 

--HPR's Casey Harlow

State epidemiologist says testing still continuing

One major lab’s lack of COVID-19 test supplies is concerning, but the state epidemiologist says testing continues on.

That’s because the state health department has been able to offer Diagnostic Labs the supplies it needs out of a stockpile.

Epidemiologist Sarah Park told state legislators yesterday that another large lab – Clinical Labs of Hawaii – is still conducting tests because it uses a different kind of platform.

But Park says there’s still need to conserve the tests.

"We don't know how long this sort of stop in supplies is gonna last. Is it just a week? Is it just this week? Is it gonna be a month? Is it gonna be, you know, in a month time that it'll start up again, but it'll be much less?" she said.

"So it's this challenge that our laboratorians are having in terms of trying to be judicious. And again, being mindful. You know, one outbreak -- what Dr. [Scott] Miscovich was talking to the testing at Hale Nani, just one outbreak like that. That's a thousand tests in one day.”

Park was referring to the recent outbreak at Hale Nani, the state’s largest skilled nursing facility, where a dozen residents and six staff workers have tested positive.

Park says the state will never have enough tests for everyone. Instead, she called for strategic testing, such as for those who have had close contact with people with infections.

State long-term care ombudsmam raises red flag about isolation

At a briefing on COVID-19 infections at nursing homes and community care homes, state lawmakers were told yesterday that the restrictions on visitors at long-term care facilties because of COVID-19 prevents families from checking up on the care of their loved ones.

John McDermott, state long-term care ombudsman, recounted one case in which he said a woman named Nadine called to describe the deterioration of her husband John after he was admitted to a nursing home on June 1. She was not able to visit him because of the COVID-19 lockdown.

On June 30, she said her husband was sent to The Queen's Medical Center due to blood pressure and oxygen failing. Nadine worked there and met him at the hospital. "She didn't recognize him," McDermott said.

"In one month, his weight dropped from 101 to 87 pounds. His gown barely hung on him. She later found he was eating 25% of his meals because he needed help, and there was no staff to help. She could see he hadn't been shaved or showered in several days. She saw dried blood under his untrimmed nails from scratching. His teeth were ground down because staff didn't insert his bite guard. He could barely speak and he didn't fully recognize his wife."

McDermott said she didn't get any call from the facility that he was declining and when she called, no one answered or she was put on hold, McDermott said. She believes not being allowed to visit her husband contributed to his decline and she is angry that she was never called to visit. He died on July 1.

Families because they cannot visit their loved ones, they have to trust that things are OK, he said. "No one is blaming the staff, but families are worried," he said. 

McDermott called on larger nursing homes to meet weekly with families on Zoom so they can keep up with the care of their seniors.

But he said while larger facilities care for about 4,500 people, the mom-and-pop community care homes serve roughly 8,300 -- and they deserve attention, too, he said.

Representatives of the community care homes said they were confused by the various directives sent out by government officials and asked for clear directions. They also said they lacked personal protective equipment (PPEs) such as masks and gowns. 

Keith Ridley with the state Office of Health Care Assurance said his office has sent out instructions on  COVID-19 safety measures to the community care homes and would send them out again if needed.

Restaurants, bars must follow safety guidelines or could get red placards

The state Department of Health will now issue red placards to restaurants and bars that fail to comply with COVID-19 guidelines.

 

Restaurants and bars that do not maintain social distancing and face masks will receive a notice and have 48 hours to fix any violations.

 

If an establishment receives a second warning, the state will issue a red placard, and it will be shut down immediately.

 

Peter Oshiro with the health department said the Food Safety Branch has been receiving two to five calls a day regarding restaurants and bars not complying with the guidelines.

 

He says the aim is to educate, so the businesses get a pass the first time and a notice the next time.

 

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell also said yesterday that he is speaking to the city Liquor Commission about revoking the licenses of bars that fail to comply with the safety measures.

 

--HPR's Amy Nakamura

 

Governor urged to extend moratorium on evictions

 

Honolulu officials are hoping Gov. David Ige extends his moratorium on evictions before it expires at the end of the month.

Ige extended the moratorium once in June , preventing landlords from evicting tenants for failing to pay their monthly rent.

Earlier this week, the City Council adopted a resolution urging Ige to extend the moratorium until the end of the year.

Council Chair Emeritus Ron Menor is concerned that thousands of local families are at risk of becoming homeless because of the economic impacts of COVID-19.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell says he and the other mayors have discussed the issue with Ige.

"Speaking for me, as the mayor of the City and County of Honolulu, I hope the governor will look to extend that moratorium to allow people to remain in their homes. If they’re evicted, they become homeless, and we have an even greater problem on the island of Oahu," he said. 

"We don’t want to see that happen. We want to try to see if we can keep people in their homes for as long as possible. But part of that is thawing out our economy, and that part of that is bringing the visitors back at some point to avoid more of that type of falloff."

State officials advise renters who are facing financial hardships to talk to their landlords.

Residents who have concerns can call the Office of Consumer Protection’s Landlord Tenant hotline at 586-2634.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

City offering interest-free home down payment loans

Qualified low-income and moderate-income households can apply for interest-free, down payment loans to help buy a new home.

The city Department of Community Services is making $1 million available in loan funds and taking applications from applicants' mortgage lenders for loans of up to $40,000. Households earning 80% of the area median income or below -- about $80,600 for a family of two or $100,700 for a family of four -- can apply.

The first-time homebuyers will need to apply through a mortgage lender. To qualify, applicants must provide 5% of the purchase price as a down payment and complete a homeownership course.   

More information is available from the Department of Community Services' Loan Branch at 808-768-7076 or at www.honolulu.gov/dcs.

This is a developing story. Please check back for upates. Editor's note: We’d like to hear how you’re coping with the latest COVID-19 developments and the state's phased reopening. You can call our talkback line at 808-792-8217. Or e-mail us at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.

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