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The Latest: New Cases Spike to 168, 2 Deaths; City Hires 80 Contact Tracers; Flu Shots Urged

AP Photo/Steven Senne

Updated: 9/23/2020, 12:05 p.m. The Hawaii Department of Health today reported two new deaths from COVID-19 and 168 new cases statewide. The latest infections broke a string of three consecutive days of double-digit case counts that had been a hopeful sign the spread was easing. 

Today's statewide COVID-19 case count brought the total number of infections to 11,689. Deaths now stand at 122. The health department said yesterday it is awaiting medical records and reports on more than 20 fatalities for verification and classification.

There have now been 10,546 cases on Oahu, 672 on Hawaii Island, 386 for Maui County, and 57 on Kauai. Twenty-eight residents have been diagnosed out of state. As a result of updated information, one case was removed from the Oahu count.

The state's positivity rate continues to fall. With 1,489 tests yesterday, the rate stood at 4.2%. COVID hospitalizations have also declined to 176, said Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who is in quarantine until Friday after contracting the virus.

He said on his Instagram update that while the COVID measures have improved, "Don't get cocky, everybody. Please be very safe out there."

Green is working on the state plan to waive quarantine for tourists who have a pre-flight negative test for COVID-19. 

City hires call center contract tracers 

The City and County of Honolulu has hired 80 contact tracers to help the state health department in its COVID-19 efforts.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell says the new contact tracers will go through four hours of training today, then be ready to start. 

He said they will work out of a call center.

"We've now entered into a contract with one call center. These are market research firms or call centers that has 80 people ready to start making calls," he said. "And now we're using that same model to retain a second call center of about 30. So we're going to get up fairly quickly to about 110, 120."

He said the city plans to hire additional call center employees to get to 250 contact tracers on Oahu to supplement the ones that the state health department has. The health department will manage the city-hired contact tracers. 

The city is paying for the additional new contact tracers with federal CARES Act funds. Caldwell says the cost could range between $7 million to $10 million.

There are currently 293 active contact tracers in the state.

--HPR's Ashley Mizuo

State begins issuing $300 Plus-Up jobless benefits

The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations has begun distributing benefits from the Lost Wages Assistance program.

The additional $300 a week can be paid to eligible unemployment benefit claimants who receive at least $100 in jobless benefits. But unlike the $600 Plus-Up benefit that ended in July, the $300 amount only runs for six weeks.

"Any additional funds to help unemployed workers are welcome -- and we estimate that this will provide more than $370 million to families, individuals and our state's economy," said DLIR Director Anne Eustaquio in a news release.

The distribution of the funds is staggered. A schedule and more information on the program is available on the DLIR website.

Flu shots more important in COVID-19  pandemic, experts say

There's no approved vaccine yet for COVID-19 but there is for the flu, and health experts advise everyone to get theirs now.

They warn that the combination of COVID and the flu has the potential to over-burden the health care system this year.

Queen's Health Systems CEO Dr. Jill Hoggard Green encourages residents to follow the proven steps to prevent COVID. But in a COVID Pau video, she's added one more: getting a flu shot.

"We know that if we have a flu season this fall and this winter on top of this devastating disease COVID-19, it could be extraordinarily painful to each family and individuals," she said. "So we can stop the spread of flu by getting vaccinated and wearing our masks. So, wear your masks, wash your hands, give our aloha by staying distance but telling people how much we love and care about them -- and get your flu shot."

Health experts say, in general, those who get COVID and the flu at the same time tend to get sicker.

Many pharmacies are now offering flu shots and major Hawaii insurers cover them without charge.

Those who are uninsured can check with a community health center to see if they qualify for a free shot. See below for a list of the centers.

Hawaii Community Health Centers


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