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The Latest: 231 New Cases, 1 Death; Police To Enforce Closing Of Oahu Beaches, Parks

AP Photo/Caleb Jones
FILE -- In this March 28, 2020 photo, a police officer arrives to tell people to leave Waikiki Beach in Honolulu.

Updated: 8/8/2020, 3:36 p.m.

The Hawaii Department of Health today reported 231 new COVID-19 cases and 1 death. The latest death is an Oahu man older than 60, the department said. He is the state's 31st fatality from the coronavirus.

A previously reported death of an elderly woman has been removed from the tally. Her attending physician said she likely died of an underlying health condition.

Yesterday, another two deaths and 201 new cases of COVID-19 were reported. The deaths were both Oahu men with underlying medical ailments.

The first was older than 60 years old and had been in the hospital, the state said. He died on Aug. 4 after exposed to a positive household member. The second, 40 to 50 years old, passed away on Wednesday at home. The Honolulu medical examiner reported the unattended death. His family reported he had symptoms but did not seek medical care. 

“Their passings are a stark reminder of the realities today," said Health Director Bruce Anderson. "Unfortunately, we are going to see more and more casualties as the surge of cases over the last few weeks continues and, sadly, more and more families and neighborhoods will experience the loss of loved ones.”  

He said many intensive care units on O‘ahu are full or close to capacity and hospitals are dealing with the surge, transferring patients, and opening new units to handle new patients. 

With today's cases, the state's total case count stands now at 3,346. Out of that total, 2,964 cases are on Oahu, 182 in Maui County, 128 in Hawaii County, and 47 in Kauai County. There have been 23 residents diagnosed outside of the state.

The recent surge in cases and rising death toll -- along with the threat of an overwhelmed hospital system -- prompted Gov. David Ige to restore the interisland quarantine and Mayor Kirk Caldwell to close down beaches and parks, among other steps, to try and bring the spreading infections under control on Oahu.

On Thursday, there were 152 new cases. The department highlighted the death of one elderly man having health issues who died in the hospital.

"The passing of this man really demonstrates how rapidly and invisibly COVID-19 is spreading through our communities, particularly on O‘ahu and particularly associated with clusters. A close contact of this individual attended a spin class at a gym taught by a person linked to the Hawaiian Airlines cluster," state Epidemiologist Sarah Park said.

Among the new cases and developments:

• The Hawaii Department of Public Safety reported that an Oahu Community Correctional Center adult corrections officer tested positive, bringing the total of ACOs testing positive to four. The officer in the latest case reported the positive results last night. The state health department is conducting contact tracing. Earlier in the day, the department disclosed its first inmate who tested positive. He had been brought to OCCC Monday and placed in 14-day quarantine, which is the protocol for new inmates. He was tested Tuesday when officials learned he was possibly exposed before his entry. DPS reported that in unrelated earlier cases, one adult correctional officer at the Halawa Correctional Facility and two at the Waiawa Correctional Facility also reported positive COVID-19 tests. They received their test results between Aug. 4 and Aug. 6.

• Ten city employees at Honolulu Hale have tested positive for COVID-19, three who were tested yesterday. City Council Chair Ikaika Anderson arranged for yesterday's testing after a council services staffer was found to be positive. Of 87 tests conducted yesterday, three tests were positive and 18 negative so far, a council spokeswoman said by email. All election operations at Honolulu Hale will continue today without disruption, she said.

CORRECTION: The state Department of Health today corrected information about a club employee who tested positive and whose close contacts have not all been identified. The employee worked at a different club than the one originally identified, the department said in a corrected news release. The department said it regrets the error and is attempting to identify the dance club where the employee worked. Those who went to that club from July 23 to July 25 should contact their physician, officials said.

HPD enforcement starts for city park, beach order

Honolulu police will begin enforcing Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell's emergency order today closing Oahu state and city trails, beaches and parks, except to reach the ocean for permitted water activities such as surfing, swimming and fishing. The order remains in effect until Sept. 4.

Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard has warned that few warnings will be given and that violators can expect citations and arrests. Violations of the order can bring fines of up to $5,000 and/or up to a year in jail.

A Honolulu Police Department hotline and email address will be available starting Sunday to take reports of suspected violators of the order. The hotline number is (808) 723-3900 and the email address is hpdcovidenforce@honolulu.gov.

On Tuesday, the interisland travel quarantine will be restored for passengers arriving in the counties of Maui, Kauai, Hawaii and Kalawao, even if they are flying from one Neighbor Island to another. Travelers will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Limited exemptions are passengers such as those traveling from a Neighbor Island for medical care can be requested. For questions or to apply for an exemption, email covidexemption@hawaii.gov. 

The interisland travel quarantine will remain in effect through Aug. 31.

The rollback to earlier restrictions follows an exponential rise in COVID-19 cases. Just in the past week, the state has seen an average of 143 cases per day -- an increase of 369 percent from two weeks earlier, according to The New York Times

The mayor's "Act With Care -- Do Not Gather" order maintains the prohibition against large gatherings. In general, no more than 10 people can gather inside or outside and face masks and social distancing are required, although this doesn't apply to members of the same household within their own home.

COVID-19 testing and food distributions will continue at city parks. 

Oahu schools to start first month with distance learning

Oahu public schools will go to 100% distance learning for at least four weeks when classes resume on Aug. 17, Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced yesterday. After an assessment, the state plans to transition to a blended learning program of distance learning and in-person classes starting on Sept. 14.

The announcement at an afternoon press conference comes after the state teachers union called for all-distance learning as its members continue to raise questions about their safety and that of students and staff.

"This is a challenging time," the governor said. "And I know that parents, teachers and students are worried. I also realize that keeping students at home is going to be an additional burden on working parents, but because of the recent surge on O‘ahu, I agree that this is the right approach."

School Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said urgency over the rising Oahu COVID-19 cases prompted the state action but discussions continue with the Neighbor Islands, where the infections are considerably lower and where a blended schedule is still planned.

Regarding the Hawaii State Teachers Association request for better health guidance on when schools would close after a COVID-19 case, the governor says the state is following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The union has been demanding better guidance from the state Department of Health, which has repeatedly said the CDC recommendations are sufficient.

During the first week of school, Aug. 17-Aug. 20, students wil need to physically return to campus for training on distance learning platforms and to address any issues they have connecting online or having equipment for digital classes. Schools will pay special attention to vulnerable students and their families who may need more in-person access to schools and teachers.

Oahu cafeterias will serve only grab-and-go meals, and in-person dining won't be allowed. After-school programs are being suspended until students return to a blended learning program.

From Aug. 24 to Sept. 11, the schools plan to teach classes entirely by distance learning. Special education services that can't be provided remotely will be made available in person. And students can have access to supervised in-person learning labs at schools if they don't have WiFi access at home.

Starting on Sept. 14 and if an assessment by the schools, governor's office and state health department shows it is safe, the schools would shift to a blend of distance learning and in-person classes. But if all-distance learning needs to continue, the state would make an announcement on Sept. 8.

Kishimoto said there has been no mass increase in the number of teacher retirements over COVID-19 concerns. She said they are still trending at the same rate of 300 a year.

Teachers have been training in distance learning using teacher-created learning modules. She said substitute teachers are also being trained so they can step in and continue distance and blended teaching if a teacher becomes sick.

The state Board of Education would not need to approve the program for full distance learning, Kishimoto said, since it had already supported a "return to learn" plan that covers remote teaching.

Ige says he is discussing any change in announced plans covering the University of Hawaii with President David Lassner and the UH Board of Regents. The UH had announced its reopening plans in July, which includes a modified travel quarantine program for out-of-state students. 

The governor also asked employers to provide flexibility to working parents who will need to juggle jobs and child care during the distance learning period.

Passenger arrivals exceed 3,000 again

The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported 3,064 people arrived in Hawaii Thursday, including 893 visitors and 913 returning residents.

The numbers for both groups continue to rise despite the 14-day mandatory travel quarantine for all arriving passengers and pleas by officials to avoid nonessential travel at this time as cases surge here and on the Mainland.

Others arriving included 389 crew members, 209 transiting travelers, 239 military members, 143 passengers exempt from quarantine, and 278 travelers who say 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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