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The Latest: 85 New COVID Cases; Experts Say Hawaii's Tourism Economy Needs More Aid, Future Planning

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Updated: 11/20/2020, 12:25 p.m. The state Department of Health reported no deaths and 85 new COVID-19 cases today. Because of the department's two-day delay in posting new numbers, the counts represent cases from Saturday.

Some counties are reporting more timely numbers that may differ from the state's counts.

According to the state numbers, Oahu had 66 new cases, Maui 9, Hawaii County 4, Kauai 1, Molokai 1 and Lanai one. There were 4 new cases diagnosed out of state.

The latest state counts bring the Oahu total to 15,330, Hawaii County, 1,599, Maui 542, Kauai 113, Lanai 106 and Molokai 18. The number of out-of-state cases total 217. 

Since the pandemic began, the state has seen 17,925 cases. The death toll stood at 244.

New federal aid package could help tourism-dependent Hawaii

Hawaii is one of the states that would benefit the most from another federal stimulus package. That’s the view of economist Sumner LaCroix with the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.

He said that's because of Hawaii’s dependence on tourism, which is likely headed for a slow and uneven recovery. It is leaving Hawaii with a higher number of unemployed workers compared to other states.

“There’s a lot of people out there suffering, and an agreement would really benefit Hawaii just because we have so many unemployed people and people are suffering from the epidemic compared to other states.

"It could well happen in December when Congress reconvenes again or it might be until after Biden is inaugurated as president—and Congress might then still not pass a relief package until negotiations are through sometime in February and relief might not appear until March—that would be close to disaster for Hawaii, if that happens.”

In the meantime, LaCroix says there’s also a need for better education of tourists when they buy tickets to Hawaii—not only about the specifics of testing and timing requirements, but also about the mandatory use of masks.

--HPR's Bill Dorman

Industry expert calls for future planning to book conventions, conferences

Some people in the hospitality field say not enough attention is going to the group visitor market, especially when it comes to future planning.

Conventions and conferences generally book reservations several years ahead of time, but a lot of the staff dealing with that planning has been laid off.

Keith Vierra of the hospitality consulting firm KV and Associates says those job losses could take a lingering toll on companies dealing with the group visitor market.

“They were forced to eliminate their sales staffs. So conventions generally book 3 to 5 years out, but we don’t have anyone selling that — those people were all laid off.

"So again, we’ve got to work on certainly the short run, but it’s as important to work on the long run — and book those groups of ’23, ’24 and ’25 — when we have to assume that we can get together as a group — and maybe if not a vaccine there’ll be other methods that we’re dealing with this.

"Because otherwise we’re going to run some open times that are going to be really difficult for us.”

Vierra says there’s a risk that other locations competing for potential conventions and other groups are already marketing their venues as alternatives to Hawaii.

--HPR's Bill Dorman

NWS: Hurricane season ends, but preparations shouldn't

The 2020 hurricane season ends today. And while the Central Pacific region, where Hawaii sits, only saw two storms this year, weather experts are advising residents to always be prepared.

The National Weather Service earlier this year projected a below average hurricane season for the region.
The Central Pacific typically sees between four and five storms a year. But the region transitioned from the warmer El Nino pattern to a cooler La Nina one, limiting storm generation.

National Weather Service meteorologist John Bravender says even in quiet years, it doesn’t mean the state is safe.

"We saw that this year with Hurricane Douglas coming dangerously close to the islands. We really lucked out with that one – just passed a couple dozen miles north of the state and spared us major impacts.

"Douglas could have been much, much worse had it been just slightly farther south. Hurricanes are just one potential hazard we could face here in Hawaii. From earthquakes and tsunamis, to heavy rain and flash flooding – residents should be prepared year-round for a whole variety of natural hazards."

Bravender says residents should have an emergency kit with 14 days of food and other essentials.

More information on preparing emergency kits can be found on the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency’s website.

Tourism downturn highlights connection to other businesses

The downturn of tourism in Hawaii is revealing just how closely connected the visitor sector is to many seemingly unrelated industries within the state.

That’s according to Melissa Pavlicek, the Hawaii state director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Pavlicek said while tourism accounts for roughly a quarter of the state’s economy, it’s deep ties to various other sectors across the state have become more apparent during the economic downturn.   

“Prior to COVID-19, I would say small businesses have been thriving, but since the pandemic small businesses have really struggled to adjust to the economic shutdown -- even those small businesses that don’t immediately seem to be related to tourism," she said. "The link of this business serving that business and going down the food chain, I would say that every business in Hawaii has been affected by the pandemic.”

Pavlicek said that all of the nearly 1,000 businesses represented by NFIB Hawaii have been affected in some way by the economic crisis.

--HPR's Bill Dorman

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