The Latest: 14 Deaths, 78 Cases; Lanai Reports First 4 Cases; Lawmakers Ask Why Acellus Still Used
Updated: 10/21/2020, 1:05 p.m.
The Hawaii Department of Health today reported 14 deaths and 78 new COVID-19 cases. The state said 10 of the deaths were reported as a result of updated information from Hawaii Island nursing homes. They occurred from mid-September to early October. Four more recent deaths occurred on Oahu.
The latest count brings the total number of COVID cases during the pandemic to 14,233. The death toll rose to 203, exceeding 200 and marking another milestone in the pandemic.
Oahu had 65 new cases followed by 9 on Hawaii Island, 4 in Maui County (Lanai cases, see below) and none in Kauai County.
Oahu has now had 12,617 cases, Hawaii Island 1,091, Maui County 417 and Kauai 60. Forty-eight cases were diagnosed out of state. One Hawaii Island case was removed from the counts due to updated information.
One of yesterday's deaths was a man in his 70s who had an underlying medical condition and was hospitalized when he died. The second was a woman over 80 who also had a medical condition but died at home.
Lanai gets first four coronavirus cases
Lanai, which had no reported cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, recorded four yesterday, the state Department of Health confirmed.
The health department is conducting contact tracing, and an investigation continues, but one of the four cases may be tied to recent travel.
Three of those affected worked at the same location and the fourth case is a health care worker who is not involved in direct patient care. All four are in isolation.
"It was my hope and prayer that we would have no cases on Lanai, but we understand how quickly this virus can spread in our communities," said Maui Mayor Michael Victorino.
The Straub Medial Center's Lanai Clinic will offer drive-through tests on Saturday at the Old Dole Administration Building in Lanai City, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., for those 15 years and older. Appointments must be made by calling 808-565-6423 or the Lanai Community Health Center at 808-565-6919.
Regular testing is also available at the clinic and health center Monday to Saturday.
Acellus under scrutiny again as legislators question its continued use
State lawmakers are asking why Hawaii public schools are still using a controversial online teaching system found to have racist and inappropriate content.
The Acellus learning curriculum was meant to help students make up credits if they fell behind in their instruction. But since the pandemic, schools have used it for distance learning classes.
Following complaints about the curriculum content, the Board of Education directed the schools to phase out Acellus by the end of the school year.
During an online meeting of the state House Education Committee yesterday, state Rep. Linda Ichiyama asked school officials why Acellus wasn't pulled immediately after reviewers said they would not recommend it or had reservations.
"Everybody's looking at the content, seeing issues and problems. If you're still allowing it to be used in schools, how are you going to make sure that whatever they're using is appropriate, meets DOE policies as well as rigor?" Ichiyama asked.
Deputy Superintendent Phyllis Unebasami said a review team is looking at what can be done to solve the Achellus issues and is scheduled to report back to her by Nov. 9.
"And I will then be able to share with our complex-area superintendents what are the pool of options that can be used to transition students off of Acellus, if there is a desire to do so," Unebasami said. But she said not all students will be able to move off the system right away.
"Know that our secondary students who are on credit-bearing journeys and tracks are most likely not going to be transitioned off until they have finished the course and earn their credit because to do so, to move them off at this point in time, would be disruptive."
Unebasami says the DOE is looking at whether Acellus can be modified or needs replacing.
Ichiyama asked for a report on the DOE's work so families will know if Acellus has been thoroughly vetted and is appropriate for Hawaii students.
Governor blames 'bad actors' for delays in rental assistance
Gov. David Ige says people attempting to defraud the system is why the state hasn't been able to get help more quickly to struggling renters.
Of the 20,000 applications for the Rent Relief and Housing Assistance have been submitted, but only 1,600 have been approved.
"I think it's unfortunate during these difficult times that there are bad actors in our community who tried to abuse and defraud the government of funds," Ige said.
"It is a balancing act. We're working with our private sector partners, Catholic Charities, and AUW and others to really try to make the application process as simple as possible, at the same time being able to verify that the applicants are real, and that they've suffered difficulties and losses."
He says applicants have complained that the applications are confusing so renters are not providing the necessary information. He didn't say whether the state planned to simplify the applications.
Ige also noted that since the rent payments go directly to landlords, it takes careful coordination to provide the funds.
The program has increased staffing but the state is running out of time.
It has until the end of the year to spend its portion of federal CARES Act funds, including the $100 million allocated to the rental assistance program.
--HPR's Ashley Mizuo
State offers $25M in small business grants
The state has launched a $25 million program to help small businesses adjust to COVID-19. Companies or nonprofits with fewer than 100 employees can apply for a grant of up to $10,000.
The funds can be used for web development, consulting services, new equipment or physical distancing measures. Expenses for physical distancing measures can be reimbursed if made after Oct. 1.
Chamber of Commerce Hawaii worked with the state to create the program, which is funded with federal CARES Act dollars. Chamber CEO Sherry Manor-MacNamara said the grants are meant to help ease the burden of COVID-19 on small businesses.
"COVID-19 caused many business to change how they operate and pivot their business to survive in our new normal," she said. "We know that many of our small businesses have already implemented huge changes in the past few months to pivot towards a new way of operating in this environment, while other companies want to make the shift to online to reach new customers."
The grant application period opens on Oct. 22 and applications will be accepted until Nov. 23.
More information is available at www.HawaiiBizPivot.org.
--HPR's Ashley Mizuo