Hawaii Updates: 9 New Cases, 3 Workers At Senior Facilities Test Positive; Inmate Releases End

Jun 6, 2020

Updated: 6/7/2020, 1:02 p.m.

Hawaii recorded another nine new coronavirus cases Saturday, eight on Oahu and one diagnosed out of state. The nine are being investigated, the state health department said.

Friday also saw 9 cases. Three of the number are tied to nursing homes. Two workers employed by Kalakaua Gardens, a senior living facility in Waikiki, and one with Maunalani Nursing and Rehabilitation Center have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the state Department of Health. 

None of the three workers were involved in direct patient care, the department said in a news release Saturday. Both facilities had face mask and social distancing measures in place.

No one at either facilities is considered a close contact and no related cases have been identified. As a precaution, additional testing is being conducted of staff and patients, the department said.

Saturday's new cases are the second day running when numbers have spiked to that level in recent weeks. Before Friday, the last time the state had six new cases was on April 22.

On Friday, the state said it won't know the cause for the spike in cases until they are fully investigated. However, Lt. Gov. Josh Green believes they are the result of Memorial Day gatherings.

The increase does not impact the state and county reopening plans, officials have said. A trigger for retreating from the ongoing easing of restrictions is the hospitals' capacity to care for COVID-19 patients, and that remains high.

The state health department now reports the number of recorded cases stands at 673; deaths remain at 17.

The case count for Oahu is at 439, Maui County at 120, Hawaii Island at 81 and Kauai at 21. There are 12 cases diagnosed out of state. Some 616 people have been released from isolation. 

Correction: Three cases tied to nursing homes are among the 9 new cases reported Friday, not Saturday as reported in a previous version of this story. 

Hawaii Supreme Court ends inmate release program

A controversial inmate release program to relieve state prison overcrowding in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic has in effect come to an end, the Hawaii Supreme Court decided Friday.

Hundreds of pre-trial detainees and sentenced inmates were released from state correctional facilities after the state public defender petitioned to let them out. A special master was appointed to work with the parties on the cases, although the decision to release individual inmates were left up to judges.

There have been no cases of COVID-19 in the correctional centers, prompting public officials to question why the inmates were being released.

Acting Honolulu Prosecutor Dwight Nadamoto issued a statement saying he appreciated that the program has effectively ended but he said the consequences of the releases will linger.

He said about 300 inmates were released from the Oahu correctional facility and 79 if them were rearrested and booked for such offenses as robbery, burglary, driving stolen vehicles, and property crimes.

Prosecutors will need to petition the court to have released inmates return to finish their sentences. Those who do not return on their own will need to be found and arrested by police, he said.

The public defender and other attorneys can still ask the court for more COVID-19 releases, but Nadamoto said his office will oppose any requests if they threaten public safety,

Waikiki senior living facility workers test positive for COVID-19

Two workers at Kalakaua Gardens, a seniors' assisted-living and skilled nursing care facility, have tested positive for COVID-19.

Residents have been quarantined in their units and will be tested along with all employees, the facility said in a news release on Friday. 

The two employees are home-quarantined for 14 days and being monitored by the state Department of Health. The workers apparently got infected outside of Kalakaua Gardens, according to the release.

When the workers are no longer virus-positive, the department will notify the facility that they can be cleared for work.

Only essential employees are on the job and non-essential workers have been asked to temporarily home-quarantine. 

The 17-floor facility is located at 1723 Kalakaua Ave. in Waikiki.

Palolo Chinese Homes announced on June 1 that it would be taking over management of Kalakaua Gardens. 

Maui mayor signs $67M CARES Act budget amendment

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino on Friday approved $67 million in federal relief spending under a budget amendment passed earlier by the Maui County Council.

“This money will be used to put food on the table of residents impacted by COVID-19 and help them with rent, mortgages, electric bills and other expenses through our Hawaii Emergency Laulima Partnership (H.E.L.P.) program. Funding will also be used to continue support for small businesses and farmers through our Micro Loan and Farmers Relief programs,” the mayor said in a press release.

About a third of the funding will provide grants for households, small businesses and childcare. Other funds are planned for public safety, property acquisition, recovery initiatives, equipment and construction, and administrative costs related to the pandemic.

Information on the assistance programs for residents and businesses can be found on the Maui County COVID-19 website. 

City Auditor: Parks not sufficiently maintained

The Office of the City Auditor says Honolulu parks continues to lack policies, procedures and staff to adequately maintain the parks in a way that is proper and equitable.

In an audit released yesterday, City Auditor Troy Shimasaki said one issue is that the Department of Parks and Recreation doesn't collect enough data on maintenance expenses to sufficiently manage and prioritize its work.

The auditor also said vandalism remains an issue at city parks. Costs to maintain security guards amounted to $770,478 from fiscal years 2017 to 2019 and vandalism-related repairs to parks totaled $624,039.

Also according to the audit, between fiscal years 2015 to 2017, $49 million in City Council-initiated parks projects went unspent.

The parks department does not keep quantitative performance measures, unlike other cities of comparable size, the Office of the City Auditor said. Because of this, the auditor could not determine if resources are distributed equitably among the parks. 

The auditor did examine spending based on park size and found resources were not used equitably. Ala Moana Regional Park, Salt Lake District Park, Keehi Lagoon Park and Ala Puumalu Community Park accounted for the highest per-acre maintenance costs. Those costs were more than double that for parks that included Kapiolani Regional Park, Patsy T. Mink Central Oahu Regional Park and Kualoa Regional Park. 

The department should be keeping data on operational expenditures, capital improvements and staffing for individual parks, the auditor said. "This will provide the department and stakeholders with important, detailed information about how resources are allocated at individual parks," according to the audit.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the city can always do better in maintaining its parks, which he added are heavily used. "I'm open and in fact we are constantly pushing to do a better job," he said.

Visitors exceed 500 as arrivals continue to climb

Thursday saw 1,621 arrivals at state airports, with 546 counted as visitors and 433 as returning residents. All are subject to the existing 14-day mandatory quarantine.

Others in the count include 164 crew members, 153 who say they are relocating to the islands, 130 travelers in transit, 118 military, and 77 exempted from quarantine by the state.

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

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.