Hawaii Updates: Another Record Day For COVID Cases; Hurricane Watch For Oahu, Big Isle, Maui County

Jul 24, 2020

Updated: 7/25/20 at 5:15 a.m.

Hurricane Douglas is projected to produce strong winds, heavy rain and high surf for portions of the state starting tomorrow, prompting officials to urge residents statewide to prepare a plan and stock up on emergency supplies.

Hurricane watches have been posted for Maui County, the Big Island and now Oahu. A watch means that hurricane conditions are possible within 36 to 48 hours. A flash flood watch is also in effect for all Hawaiian Islands.

As of 5 a.m., the hurricane is a category 2 storm and still producing maximum sustained winds of about 105 mph with higher gusts. Douglas was located 440 miles east-southeast of Hilo and moving west-northwest at 18 mph.

Forecasters say hurricane conditions are possible for the Big Island late Saturday night and Sunday and for Maui County on Sunday but with tropical storm conditions possible late Saturday night. Oahu could see hurricane conditions on Sunday night and tropical storm conditons possibly on Sunday. 

Chris Brenchley, director of NOAA's Central Pacific Hurricane Center, said Kauai should also monitor conditions as forecasters expect storm conditions will spread to that county.

He said the last time a hurricane made landfall in Hawaii was in 1992, when Hurricane Iniki devastated parts of Kauai. Iniki caused $3.1 billion in damage and six deaths. In 1986, Hurricane Estelle skirted around the Big Island on the south side, but still caused $2 million in damage and two deaths.

The National Weather Service expects large swells starting tomorrow and through Monday. Douglas could produce life-threatening high surf and rip currents starting tomorrow, the weather service said.

Heavy rains are expected starting late tomorrow night and continuing through Monday. Six to 10 inches of accumulated rain -- and 15 inches in some spots -- is possible. Residents should watch out for flash flooding and landslides. 

NWS warning coordination meteorologist John Bravender says the eastern part of the state will see strong winds late tomorrow night or Sunday morning as the storm approaches.

He says the storm's track has been very consistent thus far, giving forecasters confidence in knowing where it will go. 

"But because it's been very consistent, we know that could still shift with time," Bravender said. "It's important to remember not to fixate on that track itself. Our average errors, three days out are over a hundred miles. So we could see a shift either north or south from the current track."

Bravender says while forecasters expect Douglas to weaken in the coming days, residents should prepare for hurricane-force conditions. He says it's difficult to forecast how quickly wind shear and cooler waters will impact the storm.

"Whether or not Douglas approaches as a strong tropical storm or a lower end hurricane, the impacts are not going to change that much," Bravender said.

Bravender says a tropical storm or hurricane watch will likely be issued sometime today for the state.

He says the Air Force's Hurricane Hunters will be arriving soon, and will begin observing Douglas, giving forecasters a better idea of the storm's activities and potential impacts.

While Douglas is the first major storm in the Pacific, the outlook for the rest of season is still relatively unclear.

Earlier this year, meteorologists predicted a below- to near-normal season – that’s 2 to 6 named storms – depending on conditions.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

Second record-setting day in COVID-19 cases 

The state Department of Health reported the state's highest COVID-19 case count today with 60 new cases, outpacing yesterday's daily record. Of today's new cases, 58 are on Oahu, one is on Maui and one is a Hawai’i resident diagnosed out of state. 

Yesterday, the state reported 55 new cases with one new death, bringing the total death toll up to 26. 

"“We’re concerned that this relatively high level of cases is persisting on Oahu," said State Health Director Bruce Anderson. "Some of the cases we’re reporting today are associated with existing clusters, known cases and household spread, but others are new, unassociated cases that indicate increasing community spread."

The state total now stands at 1,549 cases. Out of that total, there are 1,225 cases on Oahu, 139 on Maui, 117 in Hawai’i County, 43 on Kauai, and 2 on Moloka'i. There are 23 residents diagnosed outside of the state. 

Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist, says the health department is bringing on more contact tracers to help with case investigations. The state has 179 contact tracers on staff and are hiring 20 more. 

Both Anderson and Park emphasized the importance of social distancing to avoid spreading the virus.

 

BOE defers decision on school reopening date

 

The state Board of Education weighed in on the debate over whether public schools should reopen on August 4th in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

But after a six-hour meeting yesterday with thousands of pages of testimony submitted, the board decided to defer any decision.

The unions representing teachers, principals, custodians and cafeteria workers have all urged the Department of Education to push back the school reopening. They say the schools aren’t ready to reopen safely.

Board members Margaret Cox, Kenneth Uemura, Lynn Fallin, and Dwight Takeno agreed the DOE should wait before allowing students back on campus.

"The teachers report two days and those are teacher days and the principal has two days for any kind of in-service or working with the teachers, and that’s really not enough time," Cox said. "That’s what they’ve said over and over. So how we address that, I'm not sure. But to me, we’re trying to figure out how to give the schools and the principals more time."

But board member Bruce Voss worried that a delay might hurt more vulnerable students.

"I reiterate my concerns about the need for our special needs and at-risk students, and while the concerns are legitimate and I recognize and respect them, we cannot lose sight of our special needs and at-risk students and the delay and harm this would cause," he said.

The board will hold an emergency meeting next week to address concerns that the schools are not ready to welcome back students in-person.

The board also put off a decision on whether to temporarily eliminate pay increases for teachers in such hard-to-staff areas as Hawaiian immersion and special education. The pay hikes will remain in place.

Brain Hallett, DOE’s chief financial officer, says the funds to pay the teachers will probably come from reducing existing school programs.

--HPR's Ashley Mizuo

Emergency shelter planning complicated by COVID-19

The Hawaii Chapter of the American Red Cross is preparing for Hurricane Douglas. But COVID-19 is making it more challenging than usual.

The Red Cross helps staff emergency shelters across the state for those who need to evacuate.

This time, temperature checks and a health questionnaire will be part of the screening at the shelters.

“There will be all kinds of policies in place to ensure that people can social distance. Right now, the target is for each person to have access to about 60 square feet," said Diane Peters-Nguyen, CEO of the Red Cross Pacific Islands Region.

"Families could combine for a larger footprint, but if there are a lot more people. Then the footprint may decrease. So, that’s why we’re asking people as much as possible, particularly now, to shelter in place and that is the best practice.”

Masks will be provided, but the Red Cross is asking people to bring their own masks and hand sanitizers if they can. She says anyone showing COVID symptoms will be quarantined in a separate shelter room.

The Red Cross is also calling for more volunteers. Peters-Nguyen says the Red Cross has lost about 70% of its volunteers due to concerns about the virus.

If you are interested in volunteering or can donate supplies, visit the Red Cross website.

--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.