Hawaii Updates: New Cases Jump; State Drafts Economic Recovery Plan; Theaters, Bars Reopen June 19

Jun 5, 2020

Updated: 6/5/2020, 7:53 p.m.

Where we stand

Hawaii recorded nine new coronavirus cases today, but three were older cases after discrepancies in lab reporting were corrected. Still, the net six cases are the largest number the state has reported in recent weeks. The last time the state had six new cases was on April 22. The state says they won't know the cause until the cases are fully investigated.

The increase does not impact the state and county reopening plans, state officials 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 664; deaths remain at 17.

The case count for Oahu is at 431, Maui County at 120, Hawaii Island at 81 and Kauai at 21. There are 11 cases diagnosed out of state. Some 614 people have been released from isolation. 

Draft plan for economic recovery issued by DBEDT

The state's new draft plan for economic recovery holds out hope that diverse sectors like technology,  aquaculture and aerospace can some day produce local jobs and tax collections in significant enough numbers to steer the islands away from its overdependence on tourism. 

But it is the reopening of the visitor industry that will have the largest impact on restoring Hawaii's coronavirus-devastated economy and it may take three years before tourist numbers return to anywhere near pre-pandemic levels, the plan suggests.

The Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism posted the draft recovery plan on its website yesterday after its presentation on the document before the state Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 was abruptly called off.

Yesterday's Hawaii Updates: 2 New Cases; City Council OKs Budgets Under COVID Cloud; BLM Rally At State Capitol

The strained relations between the department and senators on the committee grew even chillier after the department's non-appearance. That prompted state Sen. Michelle Kidani of Mililani to appeal to Gov. David Ige.

“So I just want to say how disappointed I am that in this time of this COVID-19 pandemic and wanting to know how we are going to work together to open up Hawaii, to tourism and all the other economic strategies and recoveries that we need, we have to work together and I ask the governor to step up to the plate. And please make sure that your departments are ready and willing to work with us," she said. "Mahalo."

There was no immediate response from the governor's office for comment.

Mike McCartney, director of DBEDT, declined to allow department staff to speak to senators last month because he said they had created a  “hostile environment.”

Yesterday, he issued a statement saying, “We are awaiting … further assurances from Senate leadership on how best [to] move … forward in a safe and tolerant environment where all employees are treated professionally and respectfully following the Senate anti-harassment policy." 

McCartney said the department has been working on the draft plan and had shared a version with the Senate for a May 21 meeting that was postponed.

"The plan is not a static document and will be adjusted as economic conditions evolve and the teams get more information," he said. He added it will take "all of us working together to reshape Hawai‘i’s future.”

In the draft recovery plan, the department describes what it calls a new model balancing economic development and the well-being of Hawaii's people, culture and environment. The plan also aligns with the state's five-stage reopening that aims to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Many of the hoped-for areas of economic development have emerged before in discussions about diversifying the state's tourism-dependent economy. The challenge has long been how to grow them large enough to replace at least in part the millions in tourism-related state tax revenues and over billion dollars spent by visitors each month.

The gap that the state needs to bridge to restore the economy is wide: in April, 149,000 were unemployed; tax revenues are forecasted to fall by 12 percent in the next fiscal year and the projected GDP will decline by over 12 percent compared to last year, the draft plan notes.

Among the next steps the plan suggests are a retrofit of the state Convention Center for media production, creation of county destination management plans and launch of a conservation corps jobs program. 

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

City to reopen theaters, museums, bars on June 19; film/TV production on June 5

The city received approval from Gov. David Ige to allow theaters, museums, arcades and bowling alleys to reopen June 19 with safety measures in place.

Bars can also open on that day, with limitations. Occupancy will be limited to no more than 50 percent of the maximum capacity of the bar; groups can have no more than 10 individuals; and groups must maintain at least six feet of separation from other gatherings.

Fitness facilities, including spaces for yoga, barre classes and hula halau can also resume operations at 50 percent of occupancy capacity and six-foot social distancing.

Outdoor organized sports can reopen in two phases, the first on June 19 with baseball, soccer, outdoor volleyball, and similar sports allowed. Phase two will include competitive team play.

As announced earlier, restaurants can resume dine-in services today and film and TV production can also resume today. 

Other permitted businesses and activities are outlined in Mayor Kirk Caldwell's latest order.

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.