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The Latest: ; 166 Inmates Now Positive; 284 New Cases; Maui Considers Resort 'Bubbles' For Tourists

AP Photo/Marco Garcia
FILE -- The coast line of west Maui is shown near the resort town of Wailea, Feb. 5, 2006 in Wailea, Maui

Updated: 8/15/2020, 7:43 p.m.

Where we stand

The number of Oahu Community Correctional Center inmates testing positive has reached 166 along with 28 OCCC staff, the state Department of Public Safety said this afternoon. The Hawaii Department of Health also reported 284 new COVID-19 cases today. Of the new cases, 273 are on Oahu, 7 in Maui County, 3 on Hawaii Island and 1 on Kauai. 

There were 233 COVID-19 cases yesterday, down from Thursday's record 355 cases. . No deaths were reported by the state.


The latest cases brought the state's total to 4,825 -- 4,390 on Oahu, 145 on Hawaii Island, 213 in Maui County, and 54 on Kauai. Twenty-three cases were diagnosed out of state. The death toll stands at 40. Two cases were removed from Hawaii Island based on updated information.


The Department of Public Safety said the OCCC coronavirus cases now totals 166 and 28 staff for a total of 194 infections at the facility. Mass testing is continuing at OCCC. 


The Hawaii Supreme Court justices are considering whether to again release prisoners in light of the COVID outbreak. (See story below.)


On Thursday, the health department reported two deaths of Oahu men. On Wednesday, the department reported four deaths of Oahu men.


As of Aug. 14 based on a 7-day average, the health department reported the rate of positive tests stood at 6.2%. The World Health Organization says before a region can relax restrictions and begin reopening, it should be at or below 5% for 14 days.


Among new cases:

• An employee in the city managing director's office has tested positive for the coronavirus and is currently in isolation. The city said in a news release Friday night that all workers in the office have been interviewed and none were found to have had significant exposure to the positive employee. No one else is in quarantine. The employee's work area will be cleaned and disinfected, the city said. Honolulu Hale remains closed to the public with the finding of about a dozen COVID-19 positive cases. The state Department of Health said the suspected sources of the cases include a potluck and breaks where workers mingled.

• Kauai's one new case yesterday brings the active cases on the island to 7 and the total to 54, Mayor Derek Kawakami said in his video update. Kawakami said most the island's recent cases have been related to travel. "This is an important reminder that now is not a good time to participate in leisurely travel," he said. The mayor announced that the governor approved his request to require outside gatherings include no more than 25 people, down from 100. Inside gatherings remain at a maximum of 10. 

--HPR's News Staff

OCCC inmates testing positive stand at 124, court weighing inmate release

The Hawaii Supreme Court is seeking more information on a proposal to release inmates at O?ahu Community Correctional Center where there are now 166 inmatess and 28 staff who have tested positive for COVID-19.

In an interim order issued Friday night, the court set a Monday noon deadline for the state Department of Public Safety to deliver a list of inmates who would meet certain criteria for possible release. Among them would be inmates who are serving sentences no longer than 18 months as part of a felony deferral or probation sentence.

Inmates imprisoned for sexual assault or attempted sexual assault, abuse of family or household members and certain serious burglaries, robberies and unauthorized entry into homes would not be considered. Selected inmates serving sentences for misdemeanors or petty misdemeanors and all pretrial detainees would be included on the list for consideration.

The order comes as cases have soared at OCCC, where overcrowded conditions have put inmates and staff in danger of contracting the virus. 

Nolan Espinda, director of the Department of Public Safety, says he expects a significant number of additional cases to pop up as mass testing continues for all OCCC inmates.

There are 19 housing units at the Kalihi facility, and inmates in three of those housing units had been tested as of Friday. Espinda appeared yesterday before the state Supreme Court justices in a hearing on the potential second round of inmate releases.

The state Office of the Public Defenders is seeking immediate release of vulnerable and low-risk inmates at the overcrowded O?ahu jail. The idea is opposed by prosecutors and police who say many inmates re-offended when the state last released them in the early months of the pandemic.

Espinda said there have been no hospitalizations so far of inmates with the virus. Medical isolation of those testing positive in individual cells, as recommended by the CDC, has proven problematic.

"We work as closely as we can with our health care unit to utilize the bed spaces that we have. When possible and under ideal conditions, every individual with a positive finding would be assigned to an individual cell. It?s just a physical impossibility at this point in time," he said.

Espinda said some of the COVID-positive inmates are being housed individually, but most are not.

OCCC currently houses 968 inmates, 300 more than the facility was designed for.

--HPR's Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

Maui discussing possible pilot program to test tourism 'bubbles'

If tourists could be confined to a Neighbor Island resort while they wait out their 14-day quarantine, would that be a viable option for a state hobbled economically by the pandemic? Maui County thinks perhaps so.

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino says the Neighbor Islands are in a good position to create tourism "bubbles," where visitors remain at a resort for the duration of their stay.

“I think the quarantine systems that we’ve all put in place is valid. And so, you know, if you’re talking pre-testing and having trans-Pacific flights coming in — if the governor and the state allows us to look at it — we may put some pilot resorts/pilot testing of resorts, and see how they work out," Victorino said at an online press conference yesterday.

Victorino said he has been discussing the idea of a pilot program with Wailea Marriott and Four Seasons resorts.

The mayor described how the "bubble" concept would work: trans-Pacific visitors would arrive at the airport and be taken directly to the resort. They would receive a RFID tracking bracelet and have the run of the resort but be confined there with geofencing techology.

Food service would be contactless -- guests would be provided prepackaged food that they would serve themselves. If the resort's restaurants are allowed, no outside guests would be permitted. The visitors would have dedicated entries and exists with security on hand. 

Hotel staff would be in groups and remain at the resort during their period of work. Once they are done, they would be tested. If anyone tests positive, the work group would be quarantined. A doctor and nurse would be available at the resort 24/7.

Victorino said the "bubble" idea wouldn't work in Waikiki, where tracking guests would not be feasible. But he said Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island have distinct areas where the proposal could be tested.

He said there are still unanswered questions, such as whether approvals would be needed for geofencing. But any cost would be borne by the visitors, he said.

According to Victorino, Gov. David Ige agreed to look at the proposal once the details are worked out.

The mayor said it is unlikely the scheduled Sept. 1 reopening to tourism with pre-flight testing will stand. More likely, he said, it would be pushed back given the surge in COVID-19 cases.

He said it would probably take the hotels three to five weeks to get a pilot program ready. If approved, it would run for 60 days. Then if any deficiencies emerge, the mayor said, "we'll be able to shut them down."

Returning residents, visitors both exceed 500 

Thursday's arrivals at state airports totaled 1,943, the Hawaii Tourism Authority reported. Of the total, 586 are returning residents and 502 are visitors.

The numbers have remained in the hundreds, although all who arrive are subject to the 14-day mandatory quarantine and risk fines and jail time if they violate quarantine. Officials have also urged residents and visitors not to travel unless it is essential because of the surging COVID-19 cases in Hawaii and parts of the Mainland.

Others arriving Thursday include 277 crew members, 190 transiting travelers, 115 military members, 126 passengers exempt from quarantine and 147 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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