Hawaii Updates: 12 New Cases; Health Director: Returning Residents Bringing Back Virus

Jul 20, 2020

Updated 7/20/20 at 12:35 p.m.

Hawaii's top health officials are advising residents to not travel to other states unless it’s necessary. There’s been a spike in the number of residents returning to state airports and an increase in those testing positive for COVID-19.

Health Director Bruce Anderson says it’s a concern, especially with the recent surges in cases throughout the country.

"We would discourage unnecessary travel for anyone in Hawaii to the Mainland U.S. at the time," Anderson told HPR on Friday. "There are very few areas that are safe. Since the middle of May, we’ve had more residents returning positive than non-residents. In fact, 51 residents have come to Hawaii, and be diagnosed COVID-positive and 13 non-residents have been positive."

Anderson notes residents who do travel outside of the state are still required to undergo a two-week quarantine when they return home.

In recent days, the numbers of returning residents have been outpacing that of arriving visitors, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. On Saturday, 699 residents returned to the islands compared to 594 visitors out of the 2,105 arrivals at state airports.

Others arriving on Saturday included 225 crew members, 163 transiting travelers, 205 military, 86 people exempt from quarantine amd 123 passemgers who said they are relocating to Hawaii.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

Where we stand

The Hawaii Health Department  reported 12 new COVID-19 cases today. Of the new cases today and those pending yesterday, 14 are on Oahu and 1 on Hawaii Island.

The state's total case count now stands at 1,393. Oahu has 1,079 cases, Maui County has 135, Hawai’i County has 114, and Kauai County has 43. There are 22 residents who were diagnosed out of state. Some 1,057 people have been released from isolation.

Maui County increases funds for household assistance fund

Another $3 million has been made available by Maui County to help families with rent, food and utilities under the Hawaii Emergency Laulima Partnership (HELP) program.

The county has now allocated a total of $5 million to the program that aims to help those impacted by COVID-19. Maui Economic Opportunity Inc. has accepted 5,690 applications and approved 4,361 for assistance through June 30.

"There are many individuals applying for HELP that have never had to utilize any type of assistance in the past," said MEO Chief Executive Officer Debbie Cabebe. "When talking to recipients, you hear a sense of panic, and then a sign of relief when we tell them assistance is on the way."

More information on the assistance program is available on the MEO website.

EPA orders state to clean up 'plastic beaches' 

The Environmental Protection Agency has directed the state to clean up two Hawaii beaches polluted with plastics. 

Kamilo Beach on Hawaii Island and Tern Island in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands' French Frigate Shoals were cited for having high levels of plastic trash.

Under the Clean Water Act, all states must submit a list of bodies of water that are polluted and take steps to reduce the environmental damage.

The state Department of Health originally argued that Kamilo Beach and Tern Island did not need to be on the list. But the EPA has decided otherwise, following a lawsuit filed by three environmental groups. 

Maxx Phillips, the Hawaii director and attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, says the state should take further steps to solve its plastics problem.

“Microplastics can be absorbed in environmental toxins that can be eaten by fish and marine life and can eventually be consumed by humans, and so this really is a closed loop system that deserves the attention that it needs," she said.

"It’s a crisis and the sooner that we make more incremental steps such as the victory to have the first two waterways of Hawaii be listed as impaired by plastics pollution, that’s just a small step in the right direction to battling this epidemic.”

DOH says its initial report matched the standards set by the EPA, but the department is now working with the federal agency on beach conservation efforts. 

--HPR's Amy Nakamura

This is a developing story. Please check back for upates. Editor's note: We’d like to hear how you’re coping with the latest COVID-19 developments and the state's phased reopening. You can call our talkback line at 808-792-8217. Or e-mail us at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org