Hawaii Coronavirus Updates: State Reduces Growth Forecast, UH To Go Online, Merrie Monarch Canceled

Mar 12, 2020

See the latest updates for 3/13/20.

The news on the Hawaii front of the coronavirus battle is swiftly changing. Here are live updates on local health, economic and societal impacts from the spread of COVID-19.

Updated: 3/12/20, 5:15 p.m.

Where Hawaii stands

As of yesterday afternoon, the state health department reports there are still two presumptive positive cases of coronavirus in Hawaii. Both involved travel out of state. 

Six cases are under investigation pending tests and 41 people are self-monitoring at home under supervision by the health department. Of the 41, 36 are on Oahu, 4 are on Maui and 1 is on Kauai.

Hawaii's first coronavirus case traveled to Mexico on the Grand Princess cruise ship from Feb. 11-21. After his return to the state, the man fell ill on March 1 and he was tested on March 6. The results came back positive. Health officials say he has mild to moderate symptoms, is in stable condition and remains quarantined at home on Oahu. Officials said in their latest update that the health department is conducting a detailed investigation to identify, notify and advise all close contacts as quickly as possible.

Following the Mexico trip, the Grand Princess visited Kauai, Oahu, Maui and Hawaii Island between Feb 26-29. The health department said it is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to notify any passengers in Hawaii and trace all close contacts.

Health officials say the exposure risk to tour operators and others who provided hospitality services to cruise ship visitors is low. The health department said companies should find out if any employees had close contact for more than 10 minutes with cruise ship passengers and that employees should be notified that passengers and crew members have tested positive for COVID-19. 

At least 21 people on the Grand Princess tested positive for the coronavirus after the ship left Hawaii, 19 of them crew members. The ship was held off the California coast while the testing occurred and it was allowed to dock in Oakland on Monday. The passengers are being tested and quarantined. Health officials said they believe four Hawaii residents were on the ship.

The state's second case involves an elderly man who is in serious condition at Kaiser Permanente's Moanalua hospital. He visited Washington state, became sick on March 2 and flew back from Seattle to Honolulu two days later on Hawaiian Airlines HA21 while showing symptoms. He visited an urgent care clinic and returned home, where his condition worsened. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital on Saturday.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that include fever and cough. Recovery occurs for the vast majority of people within a few weeks. But especially for older adults and those with underlying health problems, the coronavirus can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. 

Information on steps to keep yourself safe is available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website.

State downgrades growth forecast

The state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism today lowered its Hawaii economic growth forecast for 2020 to 0.5 percent from 1.2 percent, mainly citing the COVID-19 outbreak.

Chief State Economist Eugene Tian said the pandemic significantly impacted Hawaii tourism since late February. Passengers from international flights have decreased dramatically, dropping 33.1 percent during the first 11 days of March. 

On the domestic side, Hawaii's largest tourism market, passengers arriving from the U.S. Mainland decreased 0.8 percent in the same period.

Several airlines have temporarily suspended flights to international destinations, including Hawaiian, Delta and United.

DBET now expects visitor arrivals for 2020 will decrease by 3.3 percent this year to 10.1 million and visitor expenditures to drop by 3.8 percent.

The state is expecting that both visitor arrivals and spending will recover in 2021 with a 4 percent increase in arrivals to 10.5 million and a 4.4 percent increase in expenditures at $18 billion.

"Volatility in the market will likely continue until COVID-19 becomes controlled," said DBET Director Mike McCartney.

Is Hawaii already in a recession?

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, the state's economy had been showing signs of weakening.

Economist Paul Brewbaker of TZ Economics says he’s not certain if Hawaii is in a recession now but there were signs in 2019. 

"I'm not sure anybody actually knows that tourism last year already was in recession. Real tourism receipts in 2019 declined. If tourism was already slipping last year, and other economic indicators exhibited a degree of impairment that you didn't see in the rest of U.S., then if we're not in recession, we were already at the brink of it and this stuff really could push us down into it," he said on HPR's The Conversation today.

To hear more from Brewbaker, visit The Conversation show page.

Queen's Medical Center tents only for the sick

The Queen's Medical center has set up triage tents at its Punchbow Street location but it's only for those who are exhibiting flu-like symptoms.

"If you are a healthy individual, we ask that you refrain from visiting the tents which are only for those seeking medical treatment," the hospital said in a news release.

The hospital is following COVID-19 screening guidelines for patients who traveled to high-risk areas or were exposed to known coronavirus cases. 

Anyone with specific coronavirus questions can contact Queen's on its COVID-19 infoline at 808-691-2619. Clinicians will be available to speak to callers 24/7, the hospital said.

University of Hawaii to move classes online

The University of Hawaii plans to cancel in-person classes and move instruction online after the spring break, effective Monday, March 23.

UH President David Lassner made the announcement today "out of concern for the safety of our students, faculty and staff" following the coronavirus outbreak.

In further explanation, Lassner said in an email to faculty and staff that if a class needs to be taught face-to-face to meet learning objectives, "students will be informed after approval by the campus."

Lassner said, at this time, classes are scheduled to resume on Monday, April 13. "In the hope that we can return to normal classroom practices, the in-person start date will continue to be reevaluated, and updates will be provided as needed."

He said the university is committed to finishing up the semester and graduating students on schedule.

Lassner said there are concerns about spring graduation in May. At a press conference today, he raised the possibility of a "virtual" graduation ceremony, but said in his message that the university is continuing to evaluate the situation.

The campus, including student housing, libraries and offices will remain open, he said. All student employees and graduate assistants will continue to work and be paid, he said.

The faculty has been pointed to resources on how to conduct online classes and training for instruction and staff is scheduled this week. The 10-campus university has already reduced travel to heavily impacted countries, including China, South Korea and Italy.

Merrie Monarch Festival canceled

This year’s Merrie Monarch Festival has been canceled because of the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Festival organizer Luana Kawelu says it was a hard decision to make, but that the festival could not risk the health and well-being of the community, hālau participants, and thousands who attend Merrie Monarch every year.

The annual hula festival was set to take place from April 12-18, 2020, in Hilo.

Big West cancels basketball tournaments

The Big West Conference, a league that the University of Hawaii's men's and women's basketball teams compete in, canceled its basketball tournaments earlier today. The move follows other conferences across the country that are canceling sports events due to coronavirus concerns.

The men's tournament was scheduled to start today in Anaheim, California.

The women's tournament started yesterday, where fourth-seeded Hawaii won its first round game against Cal State Fullerton, 72-59.

In addition, the NCAA announced it is canceling its Division 1 men's and women's basketball tournaments.

UH Athletics suspends all spring sports

The University of Hawaii's athletic department has suspended all of its spring sports indefinitely due to coronavirus concerns.

A department official says schools in the Big West Conference are taking similar measures, and the department is still working on a plan for ticket holders.

DOE cancels school trips

The Hawaii Department of Education canceled all sponsored student and professional development travel out of the state for the rest of the academic year starting today.

Travel between islands and trips that leave before the cancellation takes effect will not be impacted.

In a memo, state superintendent Christina Kishimoto explained that these are precautionary steps to keep students and teachers safe during the coronavirus outbreak.

“We understand the financial hardship this will potentially cause,” she said. “We encourage families, schools and complex areas to discuss the possibility of rescheduling or reimbursement with their travel partners to the extent possible.”

Kishimoto told staff going on personal trips to consider postponing travel to high-risk countries designated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If DOE employees need to miss work to be self-quarantined because of travel to those high-risk countries, they would have to use their sick leave or not be paid during that period.

U.S. Navy holding Facebook Live town hall

Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam will be hosting a Facebook Live event today at noon (HST) to answer any questions military personnel, their families, and civilian contractors who work on the base may have about the coronavirus.

Yesterday, U.S. Army Hawaii held an Facebook Live session and the recording can be viewed online.

Maui mayor to discuss coronavirus outbreak

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino will hold a press conference at 3 p.m. today to talk about updates on the coronavirus outbreak.

He will be joined by Dr. Lorrin Pang with the Maui District Health Office and Dr. Lee Weiss with the Maui Memorial Medical Center Emergency Department.

The press conference will be carried on Akaku Channel 53 at 3 p.m. and online.

Clinical Labs begin private testing

Clinical Labs of Hawaii has begun testing for the coronavirus, company spokesperson Raina Tsue said Wednesday.

"Clinical Labs of Hawaii is currently sending out testing to our sister lab until we can perform the test in-house," Tsue said by email.

Tsue said as of Wednesday, there had not been many tests submitted, but she anticipates more Thursday. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently gave private labs the green light to begin testing that had been limited locally to the state health department and Tripler Army Medical Center. Strict criteria for testing had prompted complaints that the state was being too restrictive.

The private testing may ease those concerns. Meanwhile, the state this week is launching a surveillance testing program to see if cases of the coronavirus are spreading in the community. Once ramped up fully, the state program will test about 200 people each week.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.