Hawaii Updates: Record 55 Cases, 1 Death; Douglas Slightly Strengthens, Speeds Up

Jul 23, 2020

Updated: 7/23/2020, 5:35 p.m.

 

Hawaii has seen its highest daily case count yet today with 55 cases, the state Department of Health reports. The death toll also rose by one to 26. Fifty of the new cases are on Oahu, 3 are on Hawaii Island and 2 are on Maui.

 

“These cases represent people from all walks of life and varied professions, indicating the apparent challenges of maintaining safe practices is widespread across the state,” said Health Director Bruce Anderson.

 

The latest death is an elderly Oahu woman whose passing was reported late yesterday.

 

State Epidemiologist Sarah Park said most cases are occurring after people socialize either with work colleagues, extended family or friends in multiple settings -- all without wearing face coverings or socially distancing.

 

"I continue to hope all in our community will maintain safe practices, but unfortunately the persistence of new cases would argue against that,” Park said.

 

Anderson said he and Park are consulting with the governor and his team about the public health crisis and the need to restore the economy.

 

"Unfortunately, if we can't get these numbers headed in the right direction, we may be facing the reimplementation of restrictions," he said. "No one wants that to happen and this is why it is so critical that everyone does their part, every day, everyplace in practicing safety for the sake of the health of all in Hawai'i," he said.

 

The Department of Health reported the state's 25th COVID-19 death and 17 new cases yesterday. All of the new cases are on Oahu.

The health department described that fatality as an Oahu man between 40 and 59. His death was reported Tuesday and is the 18th on Oahu and the fourth in his age group. Maui has had six deaths and Kauai has had one, which occurred out of state. 

The state's total case count now stands at 1,490. Oahu has had 1,167 cases, Maui County 141, Hawai’i County 117, and Kauai County 43. As of today, 155 people have required hospitalization. There have been 22 residents who were diagnosed out of state. Some 1,125 people have been released from isolation.

 

Douglas expected to bring winds, heavy rain, high surf 

 

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

 

As of 5 p.m., the hurricane -- now a category 4 storm -- had maximum sustained winds of about 130 mph with higher gusts. Douglas was located 1,125 miles east-southeast of Hilo and moving quickly at 18 mph. The islands could see the impacts well into the weekend. 

 

The National Weather Service expects the storm to slowly weaken starting tomorrow as it moves into cooler waters but it will still be near hurricane strength when it approaches the islands. Douglas could produce life-threatening high surf and rip currents starting Saturday.

NWS warning coordination meteorologist John Bravender says the storm's track has been very consistent thus far, which gives 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.

Bravender says the Air Force's Hurricane Hunters will be landing in state in the next day, 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.

NWS meteorologist Leigh Ann Eaton says the Pacific basin is now in a La Nina Watch – meaning conditions are likely to change to a cooler pattern.

"Even if you’re in neutral conditions or La Nina conditions, that doesn’t mean that you’re not going to see any storms. It generally just means that the number is lower," Eaton said.

"But for us, like we’re seeing right now, it really only does take that one. Even if we only see one storm this year, but it’s one pointed at Hawaii, that’s still something we need to be concerned with across the islands. Another thing to remember is that when we put this forecast number out, that means the entire basin, and not Hawaii specifically."

Eaton says it’s not unusual for a hurricane to form in July – outside of the peak months of August and September.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

 

Hawaiian Air flight attendant dies of coronavirus

 

Hawaiian Airlines yesterday identified a COVID-19 victim as among its Los Angeles-based employees. The 60-year-old flight attendant had attended a Honolulu training session last month where 17 people tested positive for the virus.

 

Company President Peter Ingram said in a message to Hawaiian employees that Jeff Kurtzman died Tuesday night. He said Kurtzman, who joined the airlines in 1986,  "had become well known to his In-Flight colleagues for his passion for discovering new places, people and cultures; his terrific sense of humor and knack for easy conversation; and his caring heart."

 

"He embodied the values of aloha and mālama that we hold dear," Ingram said.

 

Kurtzman had attended the flight attendants training session where masks were optional and there was close interaction. Eight close contacts of the employees also tested positive, Health Director Bruce Anderson said earlier this month.

 

Anderson said one of the people in the training cluster then taught exercise classes in two gyms, resulting in 20 other coronavirus cases.

 

Ingram reminded employees that the virus is serious and highly transmissible. Safey mandates and protocols for how workers interact with each other have been strenghtened, he said, and he urged employees to practice vigilance.

 

Caldwell backs DOE on school reopening

 

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is backing the Department of Education’s plan to reopen public schools on August 4th.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association wants the date pushed back. It says it doesn’t have confidence that the schools can restart classes safely.

Yesterday at a press conference, Caldwell explained why he thinks schools need to reopen.

"I was given a study that was done by the Castle Foundation. And it shows that by not having kids go to school in classroom learning, it's really impacting our students around this island and around this state in terms of the education they need to move forward and become an apprentice and become a carpenter or electrician," he said.

"Those who are the highest performers are doing OK, but a lot of others are not under this study. And so how do we get our kids back to learning again, and in a classroom is the best way to learn."

Caldwell says he thinks the questions raised by the union can be answered before the reopening date.

UPW, HGEA join teachers union in calling for school reopening delay

The United Public Workers representing public school custodians, cafeteria workers, and other employees and the Hawaii Government Employees Association representing principals, athletic directors and others have joined the teachers union in urging a delay in the scheduled Aug. 4 school reopening.

On Tuesday, the Hawaii State Teachers Association said it lacked confidence in the state Department of Education's reopening plan and called for a postponement until questions about how the schools would deal with coronavirus cases are answered and teacher training is conducted.

The three unions represent all of the bargaining units at the public schools.

"We do not feel the Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) and the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) have done enough to properly create and implement health strategies to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) on our public school campuses," the unions said in a joint statement.

They said school buildings and facilities will not be safe for students and staff until certain steps are taken, including written guidance from the health department on reopening of schools buildings, faculty and staff training and provisions for supplies and equipment to keep the schools clean.

"We have a critical obligation to our communities to take every step and precaution necessary to ensure the safety of our students and members as we reopen schools," the unions said.

A DOE spokesperson said Tuesday that as of now, schools will still reopen on August 4th, but the department is willing to revise the plan should the situation call for it.

Wearing masks now mandated at Oahu gyms

Wearing a mask is now a requirement at Honolulu gyms under the city’s latest emergency order.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced Gov. David Ige approved his request mandating face coverings be worn at all times while in a gym on Oahu.

Caldwell says if any activity is too strenuous that wearing a mask makes it harder to breathe – it shouldn’t be done at all.

The mayor pointed to clusters at two Oahu gyms for the new mandate.

"Actually, it resulted from a Hawaiian Air training, where 40 folks got infected in a class with no masks. And then one of those folks went to two gyms, where he was a trainer, and infected 20 other people through breathing hard and putting out fomites," he said. "And so a mask protects against that."

"And our goal here in the City and County of Honolulu is not to shut down again. Not to shut down all gyms, but ask gyms not to allow exercises where you can’t wear a mask, and it’s not healthy. Now there are exceptions, right, if you have asthma and that kind of thing."

Caldwell says he hopes gyms will follow his order – which took effect immediately.

The city says it’s up to the gyms to ensure compliance.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

 

Kauai police arrest California visitor for alleged quarantine violation

Kauai police arrested Michael Pectol, 43, of Pacific Grove, California on Tuesday night on a charge of violating 14-day travel quarantine. 

Pectol arrived on a Delta flight from Los Angeles at around 5:20 p.m. 

“When he arrived, he attempted to deceive our police detectives into believing that he was going to make the proper accommodations at a local hotel for the duration of his quarantine period,” said Patrol Services Bureau Assistant Chief Mark Begley in a news release.

“But when the detectives followed up on the matter, it was determined that he did not make proper accommodations and was attempting to avoid the Governor’s requirement.”

Pectol was arrested at about 8 p.m., received a medical clearance at Wilcox Hospital, and was taken to the police detention center where he was being held on $1,000 bail.

Kauai police have made 48 arrests for reported violations of the 14-day quarantine. Violators are subject to a maximum $5,000 in fines and/or up to one year in jail.

Maui County, credit unions launch small business relief fund

A $3 million recovery and relief fund for Maui small businesses has been launched by the county in partnership with federal credit unions, Mayor Michael Victorino announced yesterday.

 

The funding comes from the federal CARES Act and aims to help small businesses recover from the economic fallout of COVID-19.

 

Applications will be accepted beginning on Aug. 3 at six federal credits: Maui County FCU, Maui FCU, Valley Isle Community FCU, Kahului FCU, Wailuku FCU and Maui Teachers FCU.

 

Maui businesses can seek the funds as reimbursement for expenses such as rent or lease payments, utility payments and COVID-related safey measures. The maximum award is $7,500.

 

More information on the fund is available on the Maui County website.

 

Chamber of Commerce Hawaii creates hiring site

 

Workers seeking job opportunities can check out the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii's new hiring site, Hawaii Is Hiring.

The website was created to connect unemployed Hawaii residents, recent graduates and those seeking a career change with career resources.

As of yesterday, more than 16,000 jobs were available, including for retail salespersons, network and systems administrators and security guards.

Because of COVID-19, about 100,000 Hawaii residents are looking for work and as unemployment benefits end, the need will grow, said Sherry Menor-McNamara, chamber president and CEO.  

Job seekers can register on the Hawaii Is Hiring website for an Aug. 12 virtual job fair.  Work opportunities are matched with the job seeker's career interests, skills and experience.

Kauai mayor: returning residents account for recent COVID-19 cases

 

All of Kauai County's recent coronavirus cases were linked to residents who traveled to the mainland, said Mayor Derek Kawakami yesterday.

 

"On return, even though they did not feel sick, they unknowingly carried the infection to others in their households. Because they followed the traveler quarantine and stayed home, they only exposed those in their households," the mayor said.

 

Those who became sick were tested and contact investigations were launched to identify those who may have been exposed, he said. 

 

"In outbreaks on our island during the past month, contact tracers managed more than 150 individual contacts," he said. Those testing positive are quarantined. If they become ill, the contact tracers help them get health care and manage their food, water and medicine deliveries.

 

"That critical work appears to have contained Kaua‘i’s recent cluster of COVID-19, and enabled our community to prevent its spread," the mayor said. 

 

Kauai has about 55 trained contact tracers -- 50 who are Department of Health public health nurses, community health workers and others and another five are volunteer medical reserve corps members.

 

The mayor said the county's contact tracers exceeds the health experts' recommendation of 30 tracers per 100,000 residents.

 

Returning residents continue to top arriving visitors

 

On Tuesday, 2,208 people arrived in Hawaii, including 493 visitors and 890 returning residents.

The rising number of returning residents has concerned Health Director Bruce Anderson, who said some are bringing the virus back with them. Anderson said the health department recommends residents don't travel to the mainland unless it's necessary. 

Others arriving on Tuesday included 275 crew members, 155 transiting passengers, 186 military members, 113 people exempt from quarantine and 96 travelers who say they are relocating to Hawaii.

 

Kalakaua Open Street event cancelled

 

The city announced it is cancelling the final Kalakaua Open Street event this Sunday due to the possible effects of Hurricane Douglas. Mayor Kirk Caldwell extended the event last month to allow residents to support Waikiki businesses and enjoy the usually tourist-heavy area. 

 

The success of the Sunday Kalakaua event led the city to hold a similar pilot in Chinatown to support area restaurants. The city did not extend the Chinatown event.

 

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.