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The Latest: 1 Death, 144 Cases; State's Shift On Contact Tracing; City Cracks Down On Big Gatherings

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AP Photo/Steven Senne
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Updated: 8/4/2020, 10:41 a.m.

The state Department of Health reported Hawaii's 27th death and 144 new COVID-19 cases today. The Honolulu man, between 40 to 59 years old, had underlying medical conditions. The man's death was reported to the health department by the Honolulu medical examiner. An investigation into his caise of death continues but it is being recorded as a COVID-19 fatality.

Today's triple-digit case count includes 139 on Oahu and 5 on Hawaii Island. Among the clusters reported are 71 cases linked to a series of funeral events, 12 cases tied to a birthday party and 6 cases associated with a hot yoga class. 

Most of the new cases are tied to community and only 2 associated with travel, although the risk factor for 118 are still under investigation.

The state case count now stands at 2,591. Out of that total, 2,221cases are on Oahu, 178 in Maui County, 122 in Hawaii County, and 47 in Kauai County. There have been 23 residents diagnosed outside of the state, 201 people hospitalized and 26 deaths. One Oahu case was removed from the counts due to updated information.

Yesterday, the health department reported a record 207 caes, but about 114 of them reflected a backlog from the three previous days. The results were delayed because of lab reporting issues that led to incomplete counts of the infections and slowed contact tracing. 

Until the lab issues developed, the state had seen a string of days when case counts reached triple-digits. The state saw 123 cases on Friday, 124 on Thursday, and 109 on Wednesday.

The rising case numbers are a factor in the ongoing debate on rolling back the reopening and delaying the start of public schools, which are now scheduled to resume on Aug. 17, and the reopening of trans-Pacific travel on Sept. 1.

Among the new cases reported:

• Another TheBus driver has tested positive for coronavirus, the operator of the city bus system and TheHandi-Van confirmed yesterday. Oahu Transit Services Inc. was informed Sunday of the positive test and the driver was immediately placed on leave and quarantined. The operator's last day of work was Friday and did not exhibit symptoms while working, the city said in a news release. The operator drove four routes on two days: Thursday, 24/18 (Kapahulu-Aina Haina/University-Ala Moana) from 5:55 a.m. to 11:15 a.m.; 81 (Waipahu Express) from 3:50 p.m. to 4:46 p.m. and on Friday, 24/18 and 81 again during the same hours.

• A South Kohala District Court employee tested positive for COVID-19, the first confirmed case of the Hawaii State Judiciary. The employee was asymptomatic but took the test as a precautionary measure and received the results yesterday afternoon. The employee went home to self-isolate and the state Department of Health is conducting contact tracing. All other employees at the district court were advised to self-quarantine and see their doctors if they develop symptoms. The court will be closed today and arrangements are being made to sanitize and clean the facility at the Waimea Civic Center.

• A second Honolulu Board of Water Supply employee has tested positive for the coronavirus. "It has been two of days since the individual was last in contact with staff or customers in our workplace," said BWS Manager Ermest Lau. BWS did not disclose if the employee is at home and in quarantine, only noting that the worker did not return to workplace since disclosing the postive test.

Enough, not enough: state's shifting position on contact tracing
 
After another day of triple-digit case counts, the state maintains it’s still able to effectively track down the close contacts of people with new COVID-19 infections. That’s not what health officials said just last month.

Three weeks ago, state Health Director Bruce Anderson said if the state had over 100 daily cases spanning just a few days, his department's resources would be strained. Even 40 to 50 cases a day for an extended period of time would stress the DOH contract tracers, he said.

Now, after four recent days of 100-plus cases and 207 new infections yesterday, Anderson insists his staff can manage the load.

Anderson said the current 105 department workers assigned to contract tracing is enough -- for now. The department has hired 20 new contact tracers and plans to hire another 20 next week.

"We have a new application that we've recently started using which allows each contact tracer to trace up to 20 individuals per day," he said. "So, say, use some rough math, if you got 100 contact tracers in theory, they could track up to 2,000 cases. So you've got quite a bit of capacity there if needed.

"But if we were to see an extended period of time with high, triple-digit numbers, obviously we're going to be stressed a bit and we certainly need to bring on more tracers."

Gov. David Ige also rolled back his comments from last week that the state didn't have enough contact tracers to deal with the surge in cases.

"We have the contact tracers on staff that we need at this point in time," he now says. The 60 National Guard personnel to whom he referred in previous remarks are available and trained should the state need to add to its contact tracers, he clarified.

Anderson also said the state can draw on a pool of 450 individuals who’ve been trained to conduct contact tracing.

But University of Hawaii epidemiologist Thomas Lee said being taught how to contact trace and having experience are not the same.

"It's one thing to get trained. It's another thing to do it,  to actually go through the questions in real time. And, also, not just ask the questions, but enter information, going through all the processes.

"What I'm concerned about is, yes, we have all these people trained, but a lot of these skills are perishable, right? And if they're not doing it right away, they could theoretically lose some of the nuances that they were taught."

Anderson said contact tracing is just one way the state can lower the number of COVID-19 cases. Preventing infections is also key by wearing masks, physically distancing and taking other steps to stop the spread of the potentially deadly virus.

--HPR's Ashley Mizuo

City rolling back large gatherings

After a surge in COVID-19 cases that have topped 100 new infections in recent days, the city is cracking down: no more than 10 people are allowed in indoor and outdoor social gatherings -- regardless of whether the people are all part of a household or not.

The emergency order, approved by Gov. David Ige, took effect yesterday and specifically restricts funerals and similar events. Major clusters of coronavirus cases have resulted from funerals where participants did not wear face masks or socially distance, according to health officials.

Whether indoors or outdoors, people in the groups of 10 or fewer must keep at least six feet apart if they are from different households. Face coverings must be worn and separate social gatherings cannot mingle together. 

“Right now we’re facing a massive challenge to get this virus back under control and we don’t want to go back to where we were in March,” said Caldwell in a news statement.

“The goal here is to keep as much of our island open and running as possible, but in a way that’s safe. For example, instead of closing down facilities like parks, where people can exercise outdoors, we’re trying to control the size of gatherings in those parks. We’re trying to move forward in a way where we can avoid taking any major steps backwards. The only way we do this is with everyone doing their part.”

Because of the emergency order, the city will not issue new picnic permits for large events, although previously approved permits will be honored. Inflatable structures, known as bouncy houses, will not be permitted.

Outdoor team sporting events that allow for up to 100 people will be permitted by the Department of Parks and Recreation, with face coverings and physical distancing required. But the city says the events are not meant to be social gatherings, and participants must leave once the event is over. 

Beaches can only be used a half hour before sunrise and a half hour after sunset. Fishing and permitted outdoor exercise are allowed under the emergency order. Regular city park hours remain in effect.

City outdoor facilities and activities that include the Honolulu Botanical Gardens, People's Open Markets, community gardens, Koko Head Shooting Complex, archery ranges, playgrounds, pools, dog parks and exercise equipment are still open, but with the limits outlined in the order.

The city is allowing permitted camping at its campgrounds but there is a standing 10-person limit for each campsite. If large gatherings occur in the campgrounds, the city says they may be closed again. 

City indoor facilities, including gymnasiums, recreation building and meeting rooms remain closed except for government operations, such as neighborhood board meetings. Bathrooms that were previously opened will remain accessible on their regular schedule except to address maintenance issues.

Maui launches employment website 

Maui County announced a new job website yesterday that lists jobs and job training and career information.

Employers can also list openings on the site, the county said in a news release.

“This new website provides a virtual, safe way to match employers and job seekers through online listings and employment searches,” Mayor Michael Victorino said. “A search feature allows a job seeker to type in a job title, key words or phrase and select an employment sector, such as business, construction or healthcare."

The site also offers information on career counseling, training opportunities, resume building, internships, college certificates/degrees, financial aid opportunities and possible subsidized training through the Maui American Job Center.

Development of the website was the result of a collaboration between the County Office of Economic Development, the Maui County Workforce Development Board and the University of Hawaii Maui College.

Job seekers can get more information by calling the Maui American Job Center at (808) 270-5777. Employers can call (808) 727-2770.

Returning residents top 1,000 once again

The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported 2,977 people arrived on Sunday, including 1,083 returning residents and 713 visitors. 

The numbers of returning residents and visitors continue to swell despite a mandatory 14-day travel quarantine for all arrivals and surging COVID-19 cases on the Mainland and on Oahu.

 

Health officials have urged residents not to travel at this time because of the danger that they can bring back the virus to the islands, as some have done.

 

Others arriving at state airports include 242 crew members, 156 transiting travelers, 217 military members, and 309 travelers exempt from quarantine. Another 257 travelers said they are relocating to Hawaii.
 

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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