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The Latest: 2 Deaths, 271 New Cases; Mixed Signs: Positivity Rate Drops But Active Cases Still High

Brian Horii
Participants at surge testing on the University of Hawaii Manoa campus get help to line up on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020.

Updated: 9/4/2020, 12:27 p.m.

Hawaii recorded 2 more deaths today and 271 new COVID-19 cases, the state Department of Health reported. The latest counts bring the state death toll to 81 and the total number of cases to 9,473. Of the new cases, 236 are on Oahu, 34 on Hawaii Island, and 1 on Maui.

There have now been 8,575 cases on Oahu, 469 on Hawaii Island, 347 for Maui County, and 57 on Kauai.

The growing number of cases on Hawaii Island is worrying health officials. Deaths at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home have risen to six. All had significant underlying health issues.

As of yesterday, 46 residents and 15 employees have tested positive, said the Hilo Medical Center. Forty-one residents were being cared for at the veterans home's COVID-designated area. 

There were four deaths yesterday, all Oahu residents with underlying health conditions. Two were men and two women. One of the men and one of the women were older than 80. Another man was between 60 and 69 and the second woman was 70 to 79 years old.

Yesterday's 6,291 tests and 211 positives resulted in a positivity rate of 3.4%, an improvement from last month when the rate was about 10%. 

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said in his daily Instagram post yesterday that, so far, hospitaliztions have held steady and stood at 277. He said 152 out of 244 ICU beds are occupied, 51 of them with COVID patients. But he said with 6,345 active cases, "that will translate into a lot of hospitalizations."

The surge in cases is stressing the capacity at local hospitals, where a lack of sufficient numbers of health care personnel, especially nurses, remains a major worry.

State and city officials hope the stay-at-home order, in effect for Oahu until Sept. 9, will work to lower the number of new daily cases that have been running in the triple digits for most of August and now into September. 

The state and county have closed all beach parks and coastal areas effective today through Sept. 18. The aim is to prevent large gatherings that can increase the spread of COVID-19.

Last weekend, the state said about 100 people gathered at the J7 ranch to get in streams and waterfalls above the ranch. The area, known as "Narnia," is part of the Hilo Restricted Watershed section of the Hilo Forest Reserve. Access is restricted and permits are required for entry, however, no permits are being issued at this time. Those with valid hunting licenses are allowed to hunt during the weekends and holidays but access through the J-7 ranch is closed.

Surge testing continues at various Oahu locations today. Participants can register at doineedacovid19test.com and see the details of where and when the testing sites are scheduled.

Among the latest developments:

• Two more staff at the Oahu Community Correctional Center have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the state Department of Public Safety. No new inmate test results were reported. That brings the total number of staff cases to 71, 44 of them active. The number of inmate cases stands at 281, 50 of them active. One more deputy in the sheriff division's Kapolei Court Section reported a positive result from a rapid test. A second verification test is pending. Four sheriff division employees have tesed positive, 3 of them active.

• Thirty-three inmates from the Hawaii Community Correctional Center and one from the Oahu Community Correctional Center were released on Tuesday. The inmates are allowed to leave under a Hawaii Supreme Court order to ease overcrowding at the prisons in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

• The Hilo Medical Center reported it was treating 9 COVID patients, 4 in the ICU and 5 in its COVID unit. Four staff from various department have notified the hospital of positive test results. They are quarantining at home. The medical center plans to conduct COVID testing for its extended care facility staff next week, according to new Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services requirements to protect nursing home residents. There are no cases of COVID in the extended care facility, the hospital said. 

Those running out of unemployment can apply for extension

The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations says it expects a significant increase in the numbers of workers who will soon exhaust their 26 weeks of unemployment benefits since the pandemic started earlier this year.

Those who received benefits from February and March can apply for a 13-week extension known as PEUC by signing into the labor department unemployment benefits portal. A graphic that explains the process for applying can be found on the website.

Many of those applying for unemployment benefits still haven’t gotten through to the labor department to resolve their claims. A call center at the Convention Center was closed last month after volunteers returned to their regular jobs.

Acting Labor Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio says the state is now working to hire a company to set up a call center that can take questions.

“So we're working with a contractor right now," she said. "They've given us the contract and we're reviewing it. It is going to cost us. We're looking at the costs and how we can manage these costs and how many individuals we're going to have on board to answer these calls."

She estimated the call center would take the next several weeks to set up. All calls are now being routed to local claims offices.

A labor department spokesman said details such as the cost of the call center contract are not available. He said the agreement is still being negotiated.

Prepare to park and walk-up for Aloha Stadium testing

Aloha Stadium will be one of the many locations for surge testing this weekend, but none will be a drive-through.

More than 20,000 Oahu residents have taken a COVID-19 test since the surge testing began a week ago.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell says by Tuesday afternoon, only 92 people who took a surge test had tested positive. That is less than half a percent.

Caldwell says surge testing efforts are going well, but the city is still refining the operation of the test sites.

He says the city will no longer conduct drive-through testing.

"Walking in is faster, less hectic, better for the folks who want to be tested," he said. "And so, for example, Aloha Stadium on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday will be all walk-in, but you can park at Aloha Stadium.

"There’s a lot of parking there – and then you walk to where the testing is being done. And this also goes to the other sites, whether it be Farrington High School, Mililani High School, or Kailua High School or Halawa Housing. All of these places will be drive, park, and then walk to the testing site."

Aloha Stadium will be open for testing every day this weekend from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

To register for the free COVID-19 tests, go to doineedacovid19test.com.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

State preparing to conduct its own mass testing

Ten thousand -- that’s the number of daily COVID-19 tests Lt. Gov. Josh Green wants to reach.

He says a request for proposals from testing labs has already been submitted to the state Department of Transportation, which is taking the lead on the plan.

Green says mass testing is important as the state reopens its schools and restarts tourism.

"We've asked to enhance our testing capacity very significantly," he said. "We need to get up to about 10,000 tests a day as we begin to open schools, experience tourism again, and fight back any of the cases that are just in our community.

"So that's a must. The truth is that we are now changing into the next phase of the coronavirus and we're getting ahead of it now. We've got the lockdown in place. So while we are in lockdown, this is the time to ramp up testing and tracing."

The lieutenant governor says the types of tests planned will vary: some are antigen tests while others are traditional PCR swab tests.

Green says lack of supplies like reagents should not be a problem because the new tests don’t use as much as previous ones.

The surge testing happening on Oahu -- made possible by the federal government -- can reach up to 5,000 tests a day. The state on average processes about 3,000 tests a day.

The state will choose from among the proposals from the labs in about two weeks.

--HPR's Ashley Mizuo

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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