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The Latest: 2 Deaths, 90 Cases; City Reopens Today With Restrictions That Can Still Draw Citations

Flickr - Daniel Ramirez

Updated: 9/24/2020, 7:14 p.m. The Hawaii Department of Health today reported two new deaths from COVID-19 and 90 new cases statewide. The latest infection number returns the state to double-digit case counts that have been taken as a sign that the spread was easing. 

Today's statewide COVID-19 case count brought the total number of infections to 11,779. Deaths now stand at 124. The health department said it is awaiting medical records and reports on more than 20 fatalities for verification and classification.

There have now been 10,627 cases on Oahu, 677 on Hawaii Island, 388 for Maui County, and 57 on Kauai. Thirty residents have been diagnosed out of state. As a result of updated information, one case was removed from the Hawaii County count.

As Oahu reopens with restrictions, residents can still get cited

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell says he believes the police department will be giving more warnings before citing people for violating the city’s emergency order. That comes as the city begins to further reopen today after a month-long lockdown due to COVID-19.

The Honolulu Police Department issued more than 50,000 citations in the past month for violations of the city stay-at-home, work-from-home order.

Residents and council members have expressed their concern and sometimes anger over the citations, which can go on a person’s record as a misdemeanor. Violation of the city’s emergency order can draw a maximum penalty of $5,000 and up to a year in jail.

Caldwell says the Honolulu Police Department has been key in enforcing the city’s second lockdown and helping to prevent the spread of the virus.

"But as we open up, and now we’re going to have gatherings of five, and we want to make sure they don’t go to six and 10. Before you know it, it’s Fourth of July all over again – that they will be out there, enforcing," the mayor said.

"But in talking with the chief, you know, she’s talking about giving more warnings to at least give people a chance. But if they don’t comply, like if you have six people and they don’t disperse and move down to five after being warned, you know, all of them could be cited. Or if they continue to stay, they could be arrested. I’m hoping that won’t happen."

On Tuesday, Caldwell announced the four-tiered plan for Oahu's reopening that allows businesses to open with limits and activities to resume with restrictions. The island will remain in Tier 1 status, the most restrictive stage, for at least four weeks.

Only if the daily COVID-19 cases decline and the positivity rate remains low over two to four weeks can the city move to the next tier and see more lifting of restrictions.

For now, restaurants can open at 50% capacity with dine-in parties of 5 allowed from a single household. Reservations are required and information such as names and addresses will be collected to allow contact tracing should cases arise.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

Household hardship fund seeks applicants with deadline looming

The city needs to give out $25 million in CARES Act funds to households impacted by COVID-19 before the end of the year. If it can’t, it’ll have to return the money to the federal government.

So far, it’s only distributed $4 million.

Pamela Witty-Oakland, head of the city Department of Human Services that runs the program, says the city is holding an event next month at Ka Makana Ali’I Mall in Kapolei to help people apply for the funds.

“Saturday, Oct. 3, we're going to have an event here [at the mall] where folks can come here, they can drop off documents, they can meet with a specialist and a case manager to walk them through the process, if they need some assistance.," she said.

"We will also have one of our other divisions from our department, Work Hawaii, here to be able to help with case management and connect folks to employment opportunities or possible retraining for a new vocation moving forward. And we'll also have some of our food partners here to provide some food distributions at the same time.”

Households can get up to $2 thousand per month for up to six months to pay for expenses like rent and mortgage payments, child care, utility bills, COBRA medical coverage and internet connections.

To help make it easier for applicants to qualify, the city dropped the asset limits for the program and made other changes.

Witty-Oakland says the pace has picked up, with the city now distributing about $1 million each week in the household hardship money.

But with just 15 weeks left in the year, it’s unclear if the city can distribute all of the funds in time.

Aloha United Way and the Council For Native Hawaiian Advancement are taking the applications for the city program.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

Labor unions push back as Ige raises possibility of furloughs

Hawaii Gov. David Ige is considering furloughs for government workers in addition to further department cuts to balance the state budget.

The state is expecting to face a deficit of billions of dollars this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Ige has not formally proposed the furloughs, state worker unions met with him earlier this week to discuss the issue.

In a message to faculty members, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly said Ige raised the possibility of furloughs to be taken twice a month over a four-year period. That would result in about a 9 percent pay cut for all state workers.

The union said Ige wants the furloughs and further department cuts to take effect on Dec. 1st.

But UHPA says any reductions in pay for union employees would require the state to bargain with workers to alter their contracts. It says the public sector unions will stand together.

State teachers, meanwhile, are due a 3.5 percent raise to take effect on Nov.1st.

Their union, the Hawaii State Teachers Association, says Ige hasn’t raised the possibility of cutting that raise.

--HPR's Ashley Mizuo

Kawainui Street apartment project turned down

The Honolulu City Council officially rejected a controversial affordable housing project in Kailua, ending a months-long battle between the developer and community opponents.

The council action had no real effect since the developer, Ahe Group, withdrew its application for the project earlier this week.

The group had sought zoning exemptions to construct the apartment complex at the corner of Oneawa and Kawainui streets.

Despite the withdrawal, the council still had to vote to deny the request under state law.

After hours of testimony, eight of nine council members rejected the developer’s application. One councilmember was excused.

Councilmember Brandon Elefante says the process revealed flaws in the state system assisting affordable housing development.

"It is my hope, along with my fellow colleagues on the council, for this year and the years going forward, that we can work with the state Legislature to really take a close look at how we can change that [process]," he said, "so that it’s not just sort of spot zoning that comes before the council. But really, truly affordable housing, that comes and goes through that process and is approved. And I think there are better ways that we can improve on that."

Under city guidelines, the developer can’t again apply for exemptions covering the same project for one year.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

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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