The Latest: 3 Deaths, 112 New Cases; Quarantine Extended With Carve Out For Pre-Travel Tests
Updated: 9/25/2020, 5:30 p.m.
The Hawaii Department of Health today reported three new deaths from COVID-19 and 112 new cases statewide. The latest infection numbers returned the state to triple-digit case counts. The numbers in recent days have bounced between double digits and lower triple digits, but have generally trended down.
The latest statewide COVID-19 case count brought the total number of infections to 11,891. Deaths now stand at 127. The health department said it is awaiting medical records and reports on more than 20 fatalities for verification and classification.
There have now been 10,724 cases on Oahu, 691 on Hawaii Island, 388 for Maui County, and 58 on Kauai. Thirty residents have been diagnosed out of state.
Yesterday's two deaths were both Oahu men, one in his 50s and another in his 60s. Both had underlying medical conditions and were hospitalized.
There were no new deaths reported yesterday at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo, where 26 veterans have died and 105 residents and staff have tested positive for COVID-19.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz today called on Gov. David Ige again to increase efforts to prevent virus outbreaks in nursing homes. Schatz raised the alarm over the rising number of deaths and infections at the Hilo state veterans home earlier this month, and criticized the state and county for not moving urgently to stem the growing outbreak there.
"We now have seen outbreaks of the virus at multiple nursing homes and care facilities, including the tragedy at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home," Schatz said in his letter to Ige.
"As I have not yet received responses to my questions about how the state is preventing the spread of COVID-19 within long-term care facilities, and because I am even more concerned about whether these facilities are well-prepared, I am writing again to request an update on how Hawai‘i is protecting residents and staff of long-term care facilities and any additional measures that should be taken," he said.
HPR has asked the governor's office for a response.
Travel quarantine extended to end of October
Gov. David Ige has extended his COVID-19 emergency proclamation through Oct. 31, which keeps the two-week mandatory quarantine for out-of-state visitors in place but allows for the pre-travel test program planned for mid-month.
The interisland quarantine for travelers to the Neighbor Islands will continue, but the counties can decide to approve a negative COVID test exception to those subject to the quarantine. None of the counties have announced whether they plan to allow for the exception.
Ige's action also extends the moratorium on evictions based on nonpayment of rent through October.
"Renters need to know their rights and landlords should not be threatening action that they are not allowed to take," said Stephen Levins, executive director of the state Office of Consumer Protection in a news release.
"However, renters should make their best effort to meet their financial obligations and parties are encouraged to work out payment arrangements and take advantage of available relief options."
One is those options is the state's rent relief and housing assistance program that covers rent payments due between Aug. 1 and Dec. 28. An initial $50 million in federal CARES Act funds has been designated for the program, allowing rents to be covered for up to $2,000 a month on Oahu and $1,500 a month on the Neighbor Islands.
Another $50 million has been earmarked for rents and mortgage payments from March 1, but the program details haven't been worked out as yet.
The state also announced it is spending $14 million in CARES Act funds to provide more than 200 nurses and other medical specialists for hospitals statewide over four months. Some of the personnel will begin arriving this weekend, accoridng to the state Department of Health.
The department is working with the Healthcare Association of Hawaii that represents hospitals to contract with Ohio-based health care staffing firm ProLink Healthcare to bring in the medical personnel.
The nurses and specialists will provide critical patient care and respite for staff at nine Hawaii medical centers. They will be deployed in two waves: the first group will number 134 and the second 200. Each group will be working two months through the end of the year.
Those who are arriving are receiving a waiver from the two-week quarantine as essential workers but will be subject to regular COVID testing.
HART CEO's future uncertain after board vote
Andy Robbins’ future as CEO of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation is up in the air. HART’s board of directors discussed whether to part ways with him yesterday but made no definitive decision.
Robbins’ contract with the rail project is set to expire at the end of this year. It’s up to HART’s board to either renew it or look for someone else to lead the nearly $10 billion rail project as it makes its way into Oahu’s urban core – the final and most difficult phase.
A HART committee recommended letting his contract expire and starting the search for a new chief executive officer.
While board members acknowledged Robbins’ accomplishments as head of the troubled project, some expressed concerns.
Board member Glenn Nohara said HART’s current leadership hasn’t been forthcoming with important information, such as the status of a public-private partnership contract known as P3 to build the final phase.
"A decision on the P3 was expected in August 27th, and it’s still pending. So without this critical piece of information, we don’t really know where we stand within our budget," Nohara said. "We are not taking a proactive approach to determine our true financial and scheduled duration. We keep making 'what if' scenarios and excuses – not presenting this information.
"So, my position is the current leadership either is not capable of or of making these critical information available to the HART board."
But several board members argued it’s not the right time to oust Robbins, who earns about $317,000 a year.
Board Vice Chair Terrence Lee said Robbins has provided stability during his tenure. Lee added with the impact of COVID-19 still uncertain, the project needs steadiness now more than ever.
"I’m not suggesting ... we entertain extending his contract for another five-year term or even three-year term. But I certainly think that we need to have some stability in the immediate future. And so, I would urge the board to consider a shorter term extension," Lee said.
Four of the eight voting board members supported the committee’s recommendation to not renew Robbins’ contract at the end of the year -- short of the votes to definitively oust him.
A HART committee is expected to discuss the agency’s next steps in a future meeting.
--HPR's Casey Harlow
Hundreds of homeless find temporary shelter at city POST facility
Five hundred homeless people have found temporary accommodations in tents at a city-sponsored compound at Ke'ehi Lagoon Park.
HPD's Provisional Outdoor Screening and Triage facility known as POST has been operating 24/7 since May.
Those accommodated are tested for COVID-19 as they enter, and move through a tiered system of health protocols.
At a press conference yesterday, Acting Lt. Dan O'Neill said the facility found its first COVID-positive case on Sept. 1, and have found seven in total.
"We had seven COVID positives that were transported off site. Two went to the T-Quic facility (the homeless intake facility at IHS) and the rest went to either the hospitals that have been provided or they went to the hospital directly," he said.
"During the mayor's order, everyone here is held to the same standard as members of the community that are not in shelter. So the same rights are afforded to them. Everyone's free to leave. If someone leaves one of our clear zones, for the safety of all the guests, they have to re-enter into an intake zone. If they insist they want to leave they can."
Currently, 89 tents are occupied at the POST. Lt. O'Neill says of the 500 individuals who have gone through the facility, about 30 were reunited with family and about 20 found permanent housing.
Only 50 people have ever returned to the POST.
--HPR's Noe Tanigawa
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.