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The Latest: 124 New Cases; Maui County Employee Tests Positive; Kaua?i Starts New Travel Protocols

Casey Harlow
Hawaii Public Radio

Updated 1/5/21, 2:40 p.m.

A Maui County employee, who works in the Office of the Mayor, has tested positive for COVID-19. Mayor Michael Victorino says the employee is asymptomatic and last worked in the County Building on December 31.

The manager of the Department of Health's District Health Office notified Victorino that close contacts with the employee have been notified by DOH contact tracers. Victorino says it is "very unlikely" that anyone not contacted by the DOH has been affected.

Victorino says the County Building will remain open, and has been professionally disinfected -- and will be sanitized again. Residents are urged to conduct business with the county either online, or by using the drop box in front of the building.

Water and solid waste payments can be done in person at the Maui County Service Center or Maui County Small Business Resource Center located in the Maui Mall.

Kaua?i's new travel protocols in effect

New travel protocols for both inter-island and out-of-state travelers are in effect today for Kaua?i. Governor David Ige approved Mayor Derek Kawakami's amendment to the county's Emergency Rule 23 and the new Emergency Rule 24.

Kaua?i's amended Rule 23 reinstates the state's Safe Travels program for inter-island travel. It exempts inter-island travelers from the 10-day travel quarantine with proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours before travel. 

Under the county's Rule 24, out-of-state travelers flying to Kaua?i will be allowed to take a pre-travel ttest, stay in an Enhanced Movement Quarantine (or "Resort Bubble") and quarantine for three days, then take a post-travel test to be released from quarantine. While in quarantine at the resort bubble, participants will be able to utilize the resort property, including walking the grounds and visiting the pool and other amenities.

Kaua?i's resort bubble program is independent of the state's Safe Travels program.

Where we stand

The state Department of Health reported 124 new cases and no new fatalities on Tuesday.

According to the state numbers, O?ahu had 74, Maui 21, Hawai?i County 12, Kaua?i, Lanai and Moloka?i had none.

The latest state counts bring the O?ahu total to 18,414, Hawai?i County 1,938, Maui 1,091, Kaua?i 150, Lanai 106, and Moloka?i 22. The number of out-of-state cases totals 447.

Since the pandemic began the state has tallied 22,168 cases. The death toll stands at 289.

Maui County sees slight decline in new COVID cases

Maui County saw a slight decline in the number of new cases of COVID-19 announced Monday. The Department of Health listed nine new cases on the Valley Isle -- the first day in nearly a week that figure was in the single digits.

Oahu still produces the highest number of COVID cases by far -- and since the pandemic began, Hawaii Island has had the second-highest total.

But since late December, Maui has consistently had more new cases than the Big Island -- often twice the number or more.

Maui Mayor Michale Victorino has said that if high numbers continue in the county, he might tighten restrictions on restaurants and bars, and encourage people to remain home under the county's "safer at home" guidelines.

That condition was declared for Lanai back in November for about two and a half weeks.

Natalie Iwasa appointed to HART Board

House Speaker Scott Saiki has appointed Natalie Iwasa to the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation's board of directors. Iwasa, a licensed Certified Public Accountant and Certified Fraud Examiner, has been vocal critic of the rail project over the years. 

Saiki appointed Iwasa under the state's Act 1, which requires the Speakre of the House and the Senate President to eaach appoint two individuals to HART as non-voting, ex-officio members. The act is intended to provide the legislature with access to HART proceedings and enhance legislative oversight.

In a released statement, Saiki said of Iwasa's appointment:

"The City and County of Honolulu's rail project poses a significant financial concern and there must be more scrutiny over HART decision-making. Ms. Iwasa is an independent, critical thinker who is knowledgable and who has formed her own opinions on HART and mass transit. Ms. Iwasa's official engagement on the Board will ensure increased accountability and transparency at HART."

Iwasa's term begins today, January 5, and will run for an indefinite period of time.

-- HPR's Casey Harlow

Environmental coalition calls for expanded sunscreen chemical ban

An environmental coalition believes a recent statewide ban on chemicals used in sunscreens can be improved by banning more harmful ingredients.

The state passed Act 104 in 2018 -- banning the sale of sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate due to their harmful impacts on coral and overall reef ecosystem.

The Safe Sunscreen Coalition -- consisting of environmental organziations -- praises the state's ban, but believes more can be done.

"It's a great first step," said Ted Bohlen, spokesperson for the Hawai?i Reef and Ocean Coalition -- which is part of the Safe Sunscreen Coalition.

"The reefs really need our help. And chemical sunscreens have been part of the problem."

The groups say four other chemicals should added to the banned list, due to their effects on the environment and marine life. Those chemicals are avobenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, and octisalate.

"They act like herbicides," Bohlen said. "They cause coral bleaching, they drive species away from the coral and they harm fish and urchin larvae."

Bohlen says the disruption the chemicals cause in the ecosystem is tremenous, causing reef decline. He adds it also has an impact on human health.

"These are chemicals that are absorbed into the skin. So you put it on, in a few minutes it gets into your blood stream and can stay there, with some of these, for weeks.

The FDA has recognized only two remaining active sunscreen ingredients as "generally safe and effective" -- the UV filters zinc oxide and titanium oxide.

Bohlen says advises residents to look at the ingredients of sunscreens, and not rely on labels claiming they are reef safe.

-- HPR's Casey Harlow

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