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The Latest: 4 Deaths, 306 New Cases; DOE Extends Learn From Home; Hundreds Line Up For Tests

surge_testing_COVID19_LCC_amizuo.jpeg
Ashley Mizuo/HPR
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A long line of cars wait to get to the Leeward Community College COVID-29 testing site on Aug. 26, 2020.

Updated: 8/31/2020, 7:28 p.m.

Where we stand

A day after saying COVID-19 infections appear to be stabilizing, the Hawaii Department of Health today reported one of the state's worse daily counts in the pandemic: 4 deaths and 306 new cases. 

Of the new infections, 289 are on Oahu, 10 on Hawaii Island and 7 on Maui. Total cases stand at 6,915 on Oahu, 318 in Maui County, 253 on Hawaii Island and 56 on Kauai.

The latest count brings the state's total to 7,566 cases. Total deaths rose to 55.
 
Yesterday, the health department raised concerns about an uptick in cases on Hawaii Island and Maui. The state said two recent large gatherings on Hawaii Island are particularly conncerning: a beach gathering and a large funeral.

Social media videos from the funeral showed people were not physically distancing or wearing masks. More than 500 tests were said to have been run on those who attended the funeral with more testing planned.  

On Maui, clusters have occurred at an assisted living facility and at Maui Memorial Medical Center. 

 

The two deaths reported yesterday were Oahu men who were in the hospital and had underlying health conditions. One was 50 to 59 years old and the other was 60 to 69 years old.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell said yesterday the latest case numbers are disappointing and they are still too high. Caldwell said he would like to see daily case counts drop to the 25 to 50 after his latest stay-at-home order runs for two weeks. 

Asked what Hawaii did wrong in going from among the best in the nation to one of the worse given surging cases, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said states need to proceed cautiously when reopening.

He also cited Hawaii's culture where being together is valued. But he added: "We can get there again if everyone does their part."

DOE extending learn at home to end of quarter

The Hawaii Department of Education announced it is extending distance learning for most students through the quarter ending Oct. 2.

Students have been mainly learning remotely since the new school year started Aug. 17.

Some schools are holding in-person classes, including those for special education students.

The extension of learning from home applies to all O'ahu students and most Neighbor Island ones.  Hana High & Elementary on Maui will continue face-to-face classes for grades K-5 and blended instruction for upper grades. Kilohana Elementary, Maunaloa Elementary and Moloka'i Middle schools on Moloka'i planned face-to-face and blended learning for the quarter.

The department said in a news release it will work with state, county and health officials to assess when students can return to in-person and blended learning. "As decisions are made, schools will communicate with families," the department said.

 

Free COVID-19 testing continues today

Honolulu’s COVID-19 testing program kicked off yesterday with hundreds lining up for the free service. More testing is scheduled today.

The city’s goal is to test 5,000 people daily for the next two weeks, whether they have symptoms or not.

At Leeward Community College, one of the first-day test sites, cars lined up bumper-to-bumper and wound through the community college campus. The vehicles were filled with people trying to take advantage of the testing.

Infections on Oahu remain at critically high levels, straining local hospitals. That’s why the federal government stepped in to help the city with what’s called surge testing.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams saw the long lines for the tests as a good thing.

"I consider it a success that so many people across the island have embraced the idea of testing and have wanted to come in and get testing," he said. "So what I would like to ask you to do, something we all know you all are famous for, especially compared to mainlanders like myself, which is be patient and we’ll work through this and continue to improve the kinks in the system so we can better deliver a testing experience to each and every one of you."

 

Another testing site at Kaneohe District Park temporarily closed so that workers could regain control of the lines and alleviate traffic congestion.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said because of the overwhelming turnout, he’s gotten permission from Hawaii Gov. David Ige to use Aloha Stadium as another testing site. 

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has changed its guidelines and now recommends only people with symptoms be tested. 

But Adams says Hawaii is in a different situation because the numbers who are testing positive are so high. 

"We need to do more than just diagnostic testing of symptomatic people. We need to be testing everyone, including people without symptoms, so we know where the disease is and it can better guide our interventions to break the spread of disease.

 

"One of the things we talked about [with] the mayor and governor is to make sure everyone who absolutely needs a test, because they have symptoms first and foremost, can get it. Number two, making sure we have surveillance strategy so we can make sure, after these surge testing is over, we can test an appropriate number of people without symptoms to understand  what the disease is doing and how it’s spreading. Diagnostic testing and surveillance testing are two different things."

 

Caldwell said as of yesterday morning, over 3,600 had registered for tests on the doineedaCOVID19test.com website.

The testing locations will continue to move around the island. Today, they will be at Ewa Mahiko District Park, Wai'anae District Park and Kalakaua District Park. That’s from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Other locations are listed on the doineedaCOVID19test.com website.

--HPR's Ashley Mizuo

 

Hiring city contact tracers may depend on who's available

The city is looking to hire an initial 10 full-time contact tracers, but that may be easier said than done.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell says he’s been given the green light from the Hawaii Emergency Management Center to help bolster contract tracing efforts.

That’s a change in the state’s position. The Department of Health previously rejected multiple city offers to assist in contract tracing.

But Caldwell says there could be issues in hiring. He’s reached out to the University of Hawaii, which has trained contact tracers.

"It’s not like they have 300 that are ready to go and work full-time. They’ve been trained on how to do contact tracing, but not all of them want to work eight hours a day, seven days a week -- or just five days -- that they’re willing to do it part-time when they’re free and available.

 

"And for us, we need a more aggressive team of people. And so, we are recruiting -- the 10 that we’re going to hire are going to be full-time, eight hours a day, five days a week. And of course we need many more. And so we’re going to slowly find those folks working through the UH program and other programs where training has been conducted."

The mayor says the city has set aside federal CARES Act funds to hire the contact tracers or case investigators.

Experts with Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University have recommended 350 to 450 contact  tracers for a city the size of Honolulu.

A health department spokeswoman said by email that the department has 106 contact tracers and 28 Hawaii National Guard assigned to contract tracing work this week.

She said there are also agreements in the works with Federally Qualified Health Centers, also known as community health centers.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

 

City Council members hear appeal to open parks, beaches, trails 

Among the restrictions of the city’s emergency orders that’s under debate is the closing of beaches, parks and trails.

A City Council committee heard from members of the public yesterday who say they want to see those spaces reopened.

They cited health experts who say outdoor exercise can help people deal with the impacts of COVID-19.

Councilman Ron Menor says he enjoys visiting parks and beaches, but he said there are public health issues with large gatherings.

"The time I spent periodically in the outdoors, I also saw some very unhealthy and risky behaviors happening at parks, I would see large gatherings. More specifically, again, as an example in one of the parks in my district, which I really love because it's so wide open and it provides great opportunities for exercise, Central Regional Park.

"After the restrictions were lifted. There was one gathering where there were several hundred people congregating in clustering under tents. And I was just appalled by what I saw and ... I've been to beaches, and I seen it on beach areas, where tents are lined up close to each other. People are clustering, and I've got photographs of this. It's just appalling.”

But Menor says he agrees that trails could be reopened, with enforcement to prevent large groups from gathering.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

DOH replies to city councilman's criticism

The state Department of Health responded Wednesday to criticism leveled against it by City Councilman Joey Manahan. 

The councilman said on Tuesday that the department's failure to sufficiently test and contact trace positive COVID-19 cases have stressed local hospitals and the economy. He said the DOH tied the city's hands when it offered to test commuities in the middle of the pandemic in April.

Health Director Bruce Anderson denied in an emailed response that the state tied the city's hands. "The DOH simply raised concerns when the County proposed to contract with Everlywell, a Mainland intermediary company, that proposed to do the analysis of samples from Hawaii at other Mainland laboratories that had a long turn-around time for results and a bad track record for reporting positive cases to counties (e.g., LA County and others who advised us of this)."

An Everlywell spokeswoman said by email that Anderson is incorrect in disparaging the company's record in reporting results to government agencies. Christina Song, director of comms, said Everlywell through its lab and physician network partners, provided results to the health departments of other municipalities.

She said some county health departments, including Los Angeles', "requested custom modifications to our partners' reports weeks after reporting formats were agreed upon, which we implemented rapidly." She said at no point did the company delay or interrupt reporting test results to the agencies.

Anderson said the department's testing program has generally focused on "high-risk situations but we also appreciate and support the need for community-based and facility-wide testing, particularly when clusters of cases have been identified." He said until recently, test availability and funding has been a constraint and the department has kept in mind the limited laboratory resources in Hawaii and nationally.
 

Manahan also called the DOH's decision to limit its partnership on testing to hospitals rather than include community health centers where working families such as in his district get their health care was unjurst.

Anderson said the surge testing underway on Oahu by the city and the U.S.Department of Health and Human Services "may be a good start at a more aggressive outreach testing program in those communities and we have encourage [sic] the City & County to do so." He said the department only asks that the city coordinate its testing and contact tracing through DOH.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

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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