Hawaii Updates: New Case; DOE Wants Fall Opening Of Elementary Schools; City Seeks Economic Recovery

Jun 3, 2020

Updated: 6/3/2020, 12:10 p.m.

Where we stand

Hawaii recorded one new coronavirus case today. After adjusting for test results, however, the statewide total remains the same from yesterday.

The health department reports the number of recorded cases at 653; deaths remain at 17. The case count for Oahu is at 423, Maui County at 119, Hawaii Island at 81 and Kauai at 20. There are 10 cases diagnosed out of state. Some 612 people have been released from isolation.

DOE head wants elementary schools to open in fall, reopening guidelines posted

Hawaii Department of Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto wants elementary schools to fully open for classes come fall and the department has posted its guidelines for the reopening of schools.

During an update yesterday on plans for the public school system, Kishimoto said the department is working on a plan with health considerations in mind.

"When we look at our schedule for the start up of the school year, we're going to be looking at balancing between providing opportunities for those families that would like to do distance learning, and provide in-school education, especially for our youngest children," she said.

"So my goal is to have our elementary schools fully open for the classes, to the extent possible with the health considerations that we'll continue to follow."

For secondary schools, Kishimoto said she would like to see a mix of distance learning with in-person classes. That approach is meant to limit the number of students on campuses.

The department's guidance for the reopening of schools includes at least a three-foot distance between seats and at least six feet if students are facing each other. Face coverings must be worn outside of the classroom if physical distancing isn't possible and can be done safely.

Staff and teachers, including substitutes, will be trained on steps to take if a student may be ill. Students will eat meals in the classroom, outdoor locations or cafeterias and dining halls with social distancing.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association posted on Twitter that as it moves into summer, it intends to "engage in bargaining with the HIDOE about plans for reopening schools." The teachers union said it sent members an email on Monday with a link to a new survey about the reopening plans.

Before making any final decisions for the upcoming year, the DOE said it wants to hear from parents on what would work for them as they return to work. 

Parents can find a distance learning survey on hawaiipublicschools.org. The deadline to fill it out is June 30th.

--HPR's Ashley Mizuo

City reorganizes economic development office to promote recovery

Honolulu is reorganizing one of its city offices to help with economic recovery efforts on Oahu.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell yesterday announced the Honolulu Economic Recovery Initiative in partnership with the City Council. The effort creates the Office of Economic Revitalization, absorbing the city’s Office of Economic Development.

Yesterday's Hawaii Updates: One New Case; Interisland Travel Quarantine Lifts June 16, Out-Of-State Up Next

The city hopes to streamline its COVID-19 recovery efforts and coordinate them with the state, nonprofits and private businesses.

Five percent of the city’s CARES Act funds or $19 million has been allocated for the new office, which will be headed by Rick Keene -- a former chief financial officer of Queen's Medical Center and Bank of Hawaii.

City Chief Resilience Officer Josh Stanbro says the office will have many responsibilities.

"How do we diversify for the long run, so that we never find ourselves in this vulnerable spot again? And then how do we make sure that there’s a new workforce? That there’s workforce training opportunities to get people into the right role," he said.

"We know that COVID has forever changed our economy. It’s not just about all the job losses -- there’s gonna be new technologies. There’s gonna be people working from home. There’s gonna be all kinds of different new ways of working. And this office is going to be focused on making sure that we take advantage of that."

The office will also foster new enterprises and ensure COVID-19 testing is widely available on Oahu.

The Office of Economic Revitalization will be located at the Neal Blaisdell Center. Officials expect to open a “community recovery hub” at that location on July 1 to provide such services as job fairs and training.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

City, IHS retreat from plan to buy Chinatown building for homeless center

The City and County of Honolulu and the Institute for Human Services are pulling back from a plan to buy a building in Chinatown to provide homeless services.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell says the administration heard from community members that the building at 65 North Beretania Street “isn’t the right location,” but it supports the goal to “get mentally ill persons off the street.”

Chu Lan Schubert Kwock, president of the Chinatown Business and Community Association, says any other site in Chinatown would also run into community opposition.

"We don't want any property in Chinatown to be purchased for the purpose of serving homeless. Not that we're opposed to serving homeless, but they actually have sex here, prostitution, drugs, everything. Look at the graffiti, every wall is defaced and many windows are broken.

"We have a terrible situation here, we need to concentrate on the historical context and the business context and the kupuna living here. We have 11 buildings here, from the city, low income. My kupuna are afraid to go out. We cannot allow another good intention, bad consequences facility. We just want them to take the people to 'Iwilei, which is half a mile away."

Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga says the city has spent more than $46 million acquiring three properties for homeless projects in 'Iwilei since 2017.

IHS Executive Director Connie Mitchell says they are looking for a location "close enough to service Chinatown."

--HPR's Noe Tanigawa 

Senate committee chair wants state to focus on generating tax revenues

The head of the state Senate Special Committee On COVID-19 yesterday questioned whether the Ige administration is doing enough to help the battered economy recover.

Donovan Dela Cruz says the state needs $677 million a month in tax revenues to operate, but collected only half of that in April.

Speaking to Attorney General Clare Connors and recovery coordinator Alexandra Slous, Dela Cruz said the state needs to diversify the economy and get it moving.

He singled out the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism as responsible for this effort.

“Even if we open up the local economy, that's not going to help generate the $300 million a month and more that we need," Dela Cruz said. "What conversations do you have with DBEDT in giving them benchmarks to say, we need to come up with some projects, some plans, some policies on how we're going to generate revenue as part of our recovery effort. Is that occurring?"

Slous said a coordinated planning process is underway, but Dela Cruz appeared skeptical.

He said during a meeting of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which he also chairs, DBET did not talk about diversifying the economy or generating tax revevenue, "which is what we desperately need."

There was no immediate response to HPR's request for DBEDT to comment.

The exchange continues the tense relationship between state senators and DBEDT Director Mike McCartney, who last month declined to allow department staff to answer questions from the lawmakers, saying the legislators had created a "hostile" environment. 

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

Arrivals exceed 1,500 as tourists numbers continue to increase

Despite the 14-day mandatory quarantine for arriving visitors and residents, and numerous arrests of individuals on quarantine violation charges, arrivals continue to grow.

On Monday, 1,538 people arrived in the islands. Of the total, 462 were visitors and 440 returning residents. Also in the total were 181 who said they were relocating to the islands; 156 crew members; 129 military; 89 exempted from the quarantine by the state; and 81 travelers in transit.

 

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.