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The Latest: 1 Death, 95 New Cases; Caldwell, Green Spar Over Surveillance Testing

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency

Updated: 11/20/2020, 12:09 p.m. 

The state Department of Health today reported one death and 95 new COVID-19 cases. Given the state’s recent reporting changes that delay the numbers for two days, the latest daily numbers represent cases for Wednesday through 11:59 p.m.

Oahu saw 70 new cases, Hawaii County 13, Kauai 1, Maui 5 and Lanai and Molokai 0. There have been 6 new cases diagnosed out of state.

Oahu has recorded 14,576 cases, Hawaii County 1,512, Maui 468, Lanai 106, Kauai 87 and Molokai 17. There have been 170 cases diagnosed out of state. The death toll rose to 224.

Based on updated information, two Oahu cases were recategorized, one to Hawaii County and the second to the out-of-state count.

Caldwell, Green clash again over surveillance program

The rivalry between Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Lt. Gov. Josh Green broke out again over the effectiveness of the state's surveillance testing.
Green leads the surveillance program that aims to gauge how many arrivals are COVID-positive despite negative results from their pre-flight tests.
Caldwell said yesterday that the program is failing to live up to its promises. He said it is not randomly testing 10% of those arriving under the pre-test program, with results produced for each island.
"And we know that people coming from the continent got tested at the airport -- LAX, SFO and others. The flight takes about five hours. So you will get a test and five hours later you arrive and get a second test. That is not a four-day later surveillance test.

"Be like any of you, or all of you watching, if you got a test and you were negative, and said, 'I'll come down here to the airport and get a test five hours later and, eh, look I'm still negative.' Well, duh, you're going to be negative, because it takes four to seven days to start shedding [virus]. That's not surveillance of anything. And it's misleading."

Green responded that the mayor could set up his own second tests for Oahu.

"If he wants to do something about it, he should do what the Big Island's done and test a lot of extra people. It's his prerogative to do that. It's easy to throw stones, but when you look at 273,000 people screened and you do a study and you have the lowest rate in the country, I would refer to that as a success." 

According to Green, 17,720 post-travel tests have been given with 27 testing positive. He said the numbers are low. But while he said Hawaii is not seeing COVID-19 spread due to travelers, "we are continuing to monitor the situation, especially as we see cases rise on the mainland."

Caldwell and Green are expected to run for governor in 2022 and have previously criticized each other's response to the pandemic.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

Public-private partnership for rail pushed once again

HART CEO Andy Robbins is making one last attempt to convince the city to rejoin a partnership that would complete the rail project.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell in September withdrew the city from a public-private partnership to build the last four miles of the rail line.

The city risks losing 250-million dollars in federal funds – if a plan for the final stretch is not finalized by the end of the year.

Robbins told a council committee yesterday the partnership is the quickest and cheapest option to finish the project.

He says the city would be closer to finalizing a deal than starting over.

"Now if we move on with the P3 procurement, we would be looking for a best and final offer. And then we would get the, exactly what that says, their best and final offer of what the construction price would be.

"If we have to cancel the procurement and go to re-procurement, we’re looking at least a year before we’ll get pricing back. And we confirmed that the price is not going to go down, it’s only gonna go up because of the passage of time.

Robbins says if the city rejects his proposal, his staff is preparing alternative construction plans.

Robbins told council members he sent a letter containing some details of the proposals for Mayor Caldwell to consider in order to return to the partnership.

Robbin assured council members that if the city were to rejoin the P3, the administration would get more concrete estimates from the proposed bids within several months. And if the bids were not satisfactory, the city could leave and restart the procurement process, seeking new bids under a different construction plan.

Jon Nouchi, acting director of the city's Department of Transportation Services, acknowledged the administration received the letter, and they were discussing it. Nouchi said the administration will respond to the letter shortly, but gave no specific date or time.

Nouchi stressed that while finalizing a plan before the end of year is important, city administrators don't want to rush into a deal that will place a heavy toll on taxpayers for years to come.

Council member Ron Menor agreed with Nouchi that time is important, but he also emphasized that cost is another critical factor. Menor urged Nouchi and the administration to seriously consider Robbins' proposal, saying there doesn't seem to be a downside.

HART’s board meets today to discuss plans for the final portion of the rail project.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

Reports: Quarter of destroyer docked in Pearl Harbor infected by COVID-19

About 300 sailors assigned to the Navy guided missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy have contracted the coronavirus, roughly a quarter of the crew, according to multiple media outlets.

Crew members tested positive on Nov. 4, said a Naval Surface Forces Pacific spokesperson. She would not confirm the numbers infected, noting official policy.

"Personnel who have tested positive for COVID-19 have been placed in isolation. Out of an abundance of caution, all close contacts and non-essential crew members are undergoing a two-week self-isolation period in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guidelines," said Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman in an emailed statement.

NBC News yesterday cited unnamed officials who said the number of positive cases are higher than generally seen in other ship infections. All those testing positive are ashore and none are hospitalized, according to the officials. They added the ship is being sanitized.

The crew members are said to be nearing the end of their isolation and will be returning to duty. 

The Navy's most publicized outbreak occurred over a three-month period starting in March when the virus swept through the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, infecting 1,271 or about 27% of its crew.

The Navy relieved its commanding officer, Capt. Brett Crozier, of command after his communications to leaders raising redflags about the outbreak made its way to the media. Navy secretary Thomas Modly later resigned after disparaging and apologizing to Crozier. 

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