Hawaii Updates: Hawaii Has 1st COVID-19 Death, State Stay-At-Home Order Announced; Cases Stand at 77

Mar 23, 2020

Updated: 3/23/20, 9:07 p.m.

The state Department of Health said Hawaii has recorded its first death from the coronavirus. The Oahu adult with multiple underlying conditions died on March 20. The department said in a news release that the victim had potential, indirect travel-related exposure.

The person had been tested by a commercial lab with indeterminate results. Follow up today by a state lab confirmed COVID-19.

"All of Hawai‘i expresses condolences to the family of the person who died and shares in grieving their loss. Everyone is encouraged to take care of themselves and their loved ones during these difficult times," the department stated.

State issues stay-at-home order

Hawaii Gov. David Ige today announced a statewide stay-at-home order taking effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday that tracks those already issued by the City and County of Honolulu and Maui County to help reduce the number of infections from the coronavirus.

The governor said residents should stay at home and, if they need to go to work because they are deemed essential, return home after they are done. People can shop for supplies but they should not be getting together with friends. They can exercise, including surfing, swimming or walking, but should practice social distancing.

Violations are misdemeanors can draw a maximum fine of $5,000 and a year in jail. Ige acknowledged enforcement will be a challenge and will be coordinated with the counties through their police departments. He said the state is also looking at other enforcement assets.

He noted, however, that compliance with previous directives has been high.

Ige said residents can ask for exemptions if they feel they can't abide by the stay-at-home order by emailing covidexemption@hawaii.gov. But he said everyone must limit their time outside of their homes to "flatten the curve" and avoid an exponential rise in coronavirus cases that could overwhelm the health care system.

The governor said there is a lot of activity required to put the order in place in explaining why it is not taking effect immediately.

Referring to his previous emergency proclamation taking effect Thursday that imposes a 14-day quarantine of visitors and returning residents, Ige encouraged visitors already in the state to change their plans and leave.

He said in speaking with airines, the state expects that the number of visitors coming into our islands will "drop tremendously."

To help soften the economic blow from the mandatory measures, the state's April 20 deadline for 2019 income and corporate tax returns and payments are being pushed to July 20, similar to the action taken by the IRS for federal income tax returns. Those who expect a refund should file as soon as possible, he said.

For those who have have been unable to file for unemployment because the system has been overwhelmed by a flood of applications, Ige said all will receive the benefits they are entitled to.

Foreclosures and evictions under state codes are being suspended and programs put into place with nonprofits to keep individuals in housing during the crisis.

The governor had been earlier urged by state legislative leaders to take stronger action and adopt a mandatory shelter-in-place measure, as other states and jurisdictions have done, to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

The city's emergency order to stay-at-home/work-from-home is taking effect this afternoon at 4:30. A similar order on Maui County takes effect on Wednesday. Both run until April 30. The governor's emergency proclamation "complements" the two orders, the state said, and also covers Kauai County and Hawaii Island.

Ige said there is a worldwide shortage of personal protective equipment for health care professionals, and the state is working with organizations to identify and address their needs.

The state is looking at setting up temporary medical beds and potentially using cruise ships to be converted into hospitals for those who won't need intensive care.

Ige said he also asked President Trump for military mobile hospital assistance if Hawaii is not able to flatten the curve and limit the spread of the illness.

Where Hawaii stands

The latest numbers show Hawaii's confirmed and presumed positive coronavirus cases now number 77, up from 56 yesterday. In its update today, the state health department said Oahu has 53, Maui 11, Hawaii Island 5 and Kauai 3. Five cases are pending. At least one of the newly identified cases has no known travel connection.

"This is the first indication of community spread of COVID-19 in Hawaii and highlights the importance of social distancing...," the health department said.

Four of the total cases required hospitalizations; there have been no deaths.

Lawmakers seek statewide stay-at-home order

Gov. David Ige's two-week quarantine for visitors and returning residents won't take effect until Thursday, but the fur is already flying over the delay in its implementation and the lack of a statewide shelter-in-place order.

State Senate President Ron Kouchi and State House Speaker Scott Saiki sent a letter to the governor yesterday signed by all 25 senators and 43 of 51 representatives sharply criticizing the Ige administration's response to the coronavirus crisis.

The legislators said Kouchi and Saiki had sent letters to Ige on March 19 and 20 asking for aggressive action to contain the virus.

"We are extremely disappointed that you and your administration continue to fail to realize the gravity of the situation Hawaii faces and have not led our state with one decisive voice," the lawmakers said.

They said the quarantine announced Saturday falls short and should have been instituted earlier. The delay jeopardizes the health of the community and economy of the state, they stated.

Hawaii List: Local Resources To Ride Out A Crisis 

The lawmakers said the only way to contain the community spread of the virus is to impose a shelter-in-place directive on everyone in the state.

Thus far, two of the four  counties -- the City and County of Honolulu and Maui County -- have imposed stay-at-home/work-from-home emergency orders on residents of their islands.

The governor said on Saturday that sheltering in place is appropriate if there is wide community spread of the virus, which state health officials say is not the case here.

But in a statement yesterday, Ige said he and the mayors discussed the issue of sheltering in place and decided that each county could take the steps it required. He also said that it was agreed state action will be needed and that he directed state Attorney General Clare Connors to review what other states have done and prepare a state plan.

Lawmakers appear to want strong measures given the experience of other states and countries.

"Jurisdictions and natons that have not implemented severe restrictions have seen staggering and uncontrollable infection rates," the lawmakers said. The higher risk to seniors and medical workers and lack of hospital beds and ventilators should be reasons enough to take decisive action, they added.

They also said many residents who requested testing were refused and told to self-quarantine until they have symptoms, then go to their doctor or urgent care. "That means that at this time, we do not know whether there is a large community spread, and the Administration's refusal to take appropriate further aggressive action until we see widespread community outbreak is irresponsible." 

There was no immediate response from the governor's office last night to HPR's request for a comment on the lawmakers' letter.

Cruise ship passengers disembarking in Honolulu, travel to charter planes

Passengers on the Norwegian Cruise Line ship Norwegian Jewel began disembarking in Honolulu today to travel to the airport where they will board chartered planes, a state Department of Transportation spokesman said.

The state had earlier said none of the passengers would be disembarking. But the ship has a damaged propulsion system and repairs cannot be made while passengers are on board, prompting the change to allow the passengers to leave the ship.

Department spokesman Tim Sakahara said the passengers will be medically screened on board and when they disembark. If they show symptoms, medical personnel will decide on next steps.

Sakahara said once the passengers disembark, they will get on chartered buses and go directly to the airport to board their planes in an area called the south ramp that is not open to the general public. 

The disembarking of passengers is expected to continue tomorrow. The crew members will not get off the ship, he said. 

None of the 2,000 passengers or 1,000 crew members has been confirmed or suspected of having the coronavirus. 

The passengers embarked on the cruise on Feb. 28 in Sydney and last disembarked on March 11 in Fiji.

Cruise ships have been epicenters for the spreading virus, raising concerns about their arrivals in the islands. A 30-day pause in cruise ship operations nationwide took effect on March 14, when the Norwegian Jewel was already underway and had no plans to stop in the United States.

On Friday, the state allowed six Hawaii residents and an injured passenger and her spouse to leave the Maasdam cruise ship at Honolulu Harbor. The eight were processed by customs and border officials and underwent an enhanced medical screening, including a temperature reading.

They did not have symptoms and were directed to self-quarantine for 14 days when they arrive home.

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 developments in dealing with the spread of the coronavirus. You can call our talkback line at 808-792-8217. Or e-mail us at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.