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The Latest: Stay-At-Home Order Extended 2 Weeks; 2 Deaths, New Cases Fall to 66

AP Photo/Tim Wright
FILE-- The Yukio Okutsu Veterans Home was dedicated on Monday Nov. 12, 2007. The nursing home and adult day care center is located on the grounds of Hilo Medical Center.

Updated: 9/8/2020, 1:20 p.m.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell has extended the second stay-at-home, work-from-home order for Oahu through Sept. 23 beyond its Thursday expiration. The two-week extension comes as Hawaii recorded 2 more COVID-19 deaths today and cases fell to 66 new infections.

Caldwell says he’s consulting Gov. David Ige’s team on reopening Oahu slowly. He says case numbers will play a role in how he approaches it.

City and state parks, trails and beaches will reopen but in a very limited capacity, with only solo activity allowed.

The latest daily counts bring the state death toll to 88 and the total number of cases to over 10,000 to 10,025 -- a milestone since the pandemic began.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green says the low number of new cases is good news and that the curve is beginning to flatten. He said hospitalizations are also trending downward, with those hospitalized now at 250 from highs of about 300.

"So people we're doing real well, but the fatalities are still a concern," Green said in his daily Instagram update. "This is a critical time."

There have now been 9,058 cases on Oahu, 523 on Hawaii Island, 360 for Maui County, and 58 on Kauai. 

Meanwhile, there was an ninth death of a veteran reported at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defense.

As of yesterday, Avalon Health Care Group, operator of nursing home, reported the facility had 58 residents and 18 employees test positive for COVID-19.

Two residents were hospitalized at Hilo Medical Center as of yesterday and 34 were being cared for in the nursing home's COVID-designated area.

Over the weekend, Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz called for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to step into the crisis at the veterans home to bring the COVID cases under control.

He also chastized the state and county for failing to act urgently to address what he described as a public emergency.

“It is increasingly clear to me that the state home is understaffed and ill-equipped to stop this outbreak on its own,” Schatz said in a statement.

Allison Griffiths, a veterans home spokeswoman, said she's been in touch with Schatz and welcomes any federal assistance. But she disagreed with his description of the facility as understaffed and ill-equipped.

"Our staff is fighting very hard and are very equipped and knowledgeable about this virus," Griffiths told HPR.

"You know, unfortunately, we do have a chunk of our staff that are infected and so are unable to work. But we have adequate numbers of staff to care for our residents. You know, what I can say is that COVID-19 is an insidious, devastating, highly-contagious virus that is hitting our nation’s nursing homes the hardest."

Griffiths said the virus may have entered the facility through an asymptomatic staff member. The employee was flagged during random COVID-19 testing that the facility had in place, she said.

The surge in COVID cases has been stressing the capacity of hospitals statewide. A lack of sufficient numbers of health care personnel, especially nurses, remains a major concern.

Surge testing continues at various Oahu locations this week. Participants can walk-up or register at doineedacovid19test.com. See the website for details on where and when the testing sites are scheduled.

Mayor Caldwell 9-8-20 Stay at Home Extension

Kawainui Street project to be discussed today 

A Honolulu Council committee is holding a special meeting today to discuss a controversial housing project in Kailua. It’s the first of three hearings on the project planned this month. 

The proposed Kawainui Affordable Apartments project in Kailua needs a slew of zoning exemptions to be built. Among them are breaks for infrastructure and application fees, and exceptions to the city’s land use ordinance.

The council’s zoning, housing and planning committee will be discussing whether to grant the exemptions during its special meeting. The committee is then scheduled to take up the project again next week.

A limited partnership is behind the Kawainui Affordable Apartments, with the local development firm Ahe Group leading the effort. The partnership wants to construct the 73-unit apartment complex near the corner of Oneawa and Kawainui Streets.

The group says 68 apartments will be reserved for low-income residents – those earning between 30 to 50 percent of the average median income.

The developer has already sought density and height exemptions from the city’s Department of Planning and Permitting, citing its intent to provide affordable housing.

Some community members have criticized the project. They argue it would impact traffic and the character of the neighborhood, a predominantly low-rise community.

The project needs to get past the zoning committee. If it does, the full council would make a final decision on its fate later this month.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

Marshallese undertake own contact tracing

Contact tracing plays a crucial role in Hawai?i’s aim to slow the spread of COVID-19 by identifying and isolating the infected. Most of this work is the responsibility of the state Department of Health, but now a group of Pacific Islanders wants to take on the task.

Hawai?i’s Marshall Islands COVID-19 Task Force plans to train community members to provide language and cultural support to contact tracing efforts already put in place by the state.  

Big Island Dr. Wilfred Alik, chairman of the task force, says bridging that culture and language gap is critical to effectively reaching the local Marshallese community.

"This is where I think the state if they had reached out to the Pacific Islander communities and recruit contact tracers and train them it would have really make a difference," he said. "Because who else is best going to a community we understand, to provide outreach that?s, you know, culturally competent. Otherwise, it?s going to fall on deaf ears."

This soon-to-be trained cadre of community volunteers would also provide information on wrap-around services such as health care and rental assistance and follow-up support during the COVID-19 testing process.

Once the group is trained and a service schedule set, the next step is to open a Marshallese language COVID-19 hotline.

--HPR's Ku?uwehi Hiraishi

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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