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The Latest: 0 Deaths, 78 New COVID Cases; Schatz Asks If State Is Planning For Funding Cliff

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AP Photo/Susan Walsh
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Updated: 12/2/2020, 12:45 p.m. 

The state Department of Health reported no deaths and 78 new COVID-19 cases today. Because of the department's two-day delay in posting new numbers, the counts represent cases from Monday.

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

According to the state numbers, Oahu had 63 new cases, Maui 4, Hawaii County 1, Kauai 1, and Molokai and Lanai had none. There were 9 new cases diagnosed out of state.

The latest state counts bring the Oahu total to 15,424, Hawaii County, 1,606, Maui 551, Kauai 114, Lanai 106 and Molokai 18. The number of out-of-state cases totals 225.

Since the pandemic began, the state has tallied 18,044 cases. The death toll stands at 244.

Senator presses state for plans when federal funds end

Federal CARES Act funds are set to expire at the end of the month. Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz is asking the state what it’s doing to prepare, especially when it comes to contact tracing.

In a letter to Gov. David Ige yesterday, Schatz urged the state to continue its COVID-19 contact tracing program, even if federal funding is not renewed by the end of the year.

Schatz questioned whether the state Department of Health is preparing to maintain the number of contact tracers it has beyond the end of the year.

In recent months, the state’s contact tracing program has expanded to 429 people. This followed criticism that it wasn’t doing enough to follow up on positive cases.

However, the Hawaii National Guard has played a large role in that expanded operation. Their help is expected to expire by the end of the year, along with the federal funding.

Ige said in a statement to HPR that he shares Schatz’s concerns, but has a plan in place to continue contact tracing and deploy vaccines if federal funds are not renewed.

When HPR asked the governor’s office for specifics of that plan, we were referred to the Department of Health, which did not immediately respond to our request. We'll update this post with any response.

--HPR's Ashley Mizuo

Kauai begins opt-out of state's quarantine-free testing program

Starting today, travelers to Kauai will need to quarantine for 14 days unless approved for exemption. Passengers cannot avoid the quarantine even if they test negative for COVID-19 before their flight.

The governor approved Mayor Derek Kawakami's request to temporarily leave the Safe Travels pre-flight testing program after a spike in cases on the island, several tied to returning residents and visitors.

As of yesterday, the county had 133 cases, 16 of them active. Two new cases include one related to travel and the other from community spread. Sixteen of the island's total cases were diagnosed elsewhere, with the positives received after arrival on Kauai.

Visitors can choose to go to designated "bubble" resorts on the island for their quarantined stay, but cannot leave the property. They will be monitored with GPS bracelets. The participating resorts include: Cliffs at Princeville, Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay, Ko‘a Kea Hotel and Resort at Poipu Beach, Kukui‘ula and Timbers Kaua‘i.

Passengers can apply for modified quarantine for essential work, medical purposes or other reasons. Travelers need to apply for the exemption at least two days prior to their flight.

Hawaii Island is requiring trans-Pacific travelers to take a second rapid antigen test when they arrive at either Hilo or Kona airports.

The county had been testing about 25% of arriving passengers at Kona because of lack of space. The state has now granted the county more room, outgoing Mayor Harry Kim told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.

City's Bill 7 offers multiple incentives in effort to increase affordable housing

There's a new rental apartment being built in Liliha on Pu‘uhue Place, the first under the city's Bill 7 pilot program.

The measure gives small landowners multiple incentives to build affordable rental units in apartment and business mixed-use districts, waiving certain zoning, building and other city requirements.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Bill 7 is one of ways that the city can chip away at the need for affordable rental housing. 

"You know, 20 units here, 50 units there, and when it adds up, you get hundreds and hundreds of units being built every year and, over a decade, thousands and thousands of affordable rentals. And that's how you turn the corner on our housing challenges," Caldwell said at a press conference yesterday.

Kathy Sokugawa, the city's acting director of planning and permitting, listed some of the breaks that landowners can expect to get.

"Parking is relaxed enough to provide any parking and even for a building with three or four floors, because this program only goes up to 60 feet, but that emergency stairwells can be slightly narrower than the standard," she said.

"You don't have to provide an elevator. That's a big cost estimate at the front end as well as an operating and maintenance budget. They also can have, if they do provide parking, it can encroach into the yards, the side and rear yards and the front yards.

"The building permit fees are forgiven. The wastewater connection fee is also forgiven, I believe, the real property tax is forgiven. They don't have to pay the increased value during construction. So there's some forgiveness, additional forgiveness on the real property taxes in a variety of ways, actually. There's not just one kind of exemption. So again, this is a big give in our minds."

So far, nine projects have been submitted under Bill 7; two have been approved and seven are awaiting permits. If all are constructed, about 210 affordable rental units would be created, the mayor said.

Eighty percent of the building's units must be rented to those who earn 100% or below of the area median income. Developer Derek Lock said the Liliha apartment will have a monthly rent starting from $1,100.

Family members of the property owner can live in the buildings and be exempt from the income requirements, Sokugawa said.

Bill 7 was amended this summer by Bill 60, removing the rental caps after 15 years that limit how much landowners can charge for rent. At the time, City Councilman Ron Menor told Civil Beat that the caps had discouraged small property owners and lenders from participating.

Sokugawa said the pilot program runs for five years and will be evaluated next year in a report to the City Council.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

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