Hawaii Updates: State Wants Tourists To Postpone Visits As Coronavirus Cases Climb to 14

Mar 17, 2020

Updated: 3/18/20, 8:04 a.m.

Gov. David Ige said the state is encouraging tourists to temporarily postpone their Hawaii visits for a least 30 days and will screen cruise ship passengers for the coronavirus starting on Friday while working on similar thermal screening at the airport. At a press conference on Tuesday, he urged stricter social distancing, with gatherings of more than 10 strongly discouraged, which would effectively close many bars, night clubs, restaurants and religious gatherings.

Ige did not say if the recommendations were mandates, but said if establishments don't comply with the directives, the state would deal with that situation.

The governor said nonessential state workers will be ordered to stay home for 15 days but that this does not apply to state teachers, who are scheduled to return to work during an extended spring break to plan for social distancing when students return to classes March 30.

Late Tuesday, the union representing teachers, HSTA, filed a complaint with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board challenging the plan as a violation of the collective bargaining agreement. 

The governor said the state has recognized the concerns that visitors have brought the virus to the islands but noted that its authority is limited. Officials are working with Coast Guard and other federal agencies on its program to screen visitors for COVID-19.

Ige said there is no problem with the state's supply chain, although residents are seeing empty store shelves. Hawaii Emergency Management Agency director Ken Hara said stores have about three days of supply and when people overbuy, the shelves become bare. Officials have been urging residents not to hoard, adding it impacts those with low incomes who cannot afford to stock up.

Latest coronavirus cases

Four new adult cases have tested positive for the coronavirus, including one on Hawaii Island, state Epidemiologist Sarah Park said today, bringing the state total to 14. One case is the first for the Big Island. Hawaii Health Director Bruce Anderson said as far as officials know, there is no widepread community transmission. 

A Kualoa Ranch tour operator who was the state's first community-spread case probably came into contact with a sick tourist who visited the ranch, he said. Three people who are also ill in the ranch employee's household are being tested. Others in the home are self-quarantined.

Park said anyone who is testing without qualifying symptoms is burning through tests and protective gear. "So we want to be mindful of judious testing," she said. That way, resources can be spread over the marathon of the pandemic.

If you are mildly symptomatic, call your doctor, she said.

Anderson said most tours have been canceled by operators. He noted that President Trump recommended against gatherings of 10 or more, but the health director said the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention's number is over 50, which the state has adopted.

The important thing is to maintain social distancing to keep the virus from spreading, he said.

He said criteria for when bars and restaurants would be mandated to close would need to be reviewed, but he said Hawaii is not in the same situation as places like New York, where there has been wide community spread. He noted Starbucks has gone to takeouts.

In Hawaii, he said there is wide compliance but the state may need to take steps if that changes.

Anderson said Hawaii's hospital are already at capacity so the state is looking at other kinds of facilities to expand its abiity to cope with a major outbreak. He said the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, which the governor yesterday made the incident lead for the outbreak, is reviewing the state's hospital capacity.

Consolidated Theatres closing until further notice

Consolidated Theatres announced it is temporarily closing starting today and the state libararies are shutting down for the rest of the month beginning tomorrow as the guidance on social distancing in response to the coronavirus takes hold. 

"If you have purchased advance tickets on our Consolidated Theatres website or mobile app for a movie that will be impacted by our closure period, you will receive a refund for both the cost of your ticket and the online service fee. If you purchased via any third-party platform, including Fandango, refunds will be processed by that third party," the movie chain said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Hawaii State Libraries will close all locations starting tomorrow and running to the end of the month and suspending its Bookmobile services.

DLNR agencies, parks closing

State parks will close starting tomorrow in response to the COVID-10 outbreak, the Department of Land and Natural Resources has announced.

All state parks on Oahu and certain parks on the Neighbor Islands will be shut while agencies that process  permits for hunts, camping, special use and events.

Detailed information is available on the DLNR website.

“We appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding during this time of major inconvenience," said DLNR Chair Susan Case. "We intend to reopen parks and facilities as soon as the novel coronavirus is no longer a threat. These steps are being taken to protect all visitors and constituents, as well as our staff, while maintaining a high level of service.”

Iolani Palace, surrounding grounds closing

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Friends of Iolani Palace announced it is closing the palace until further notice starting tomorrow.

The palace grounds will also be closed by the state until further notice, said Paula Akana, executive director of  the group.

"We will provide updates on the Palace’s operations, including the restart of tours and reopening of the grounds via our website and social media channels," she said.

Applying in-person for unemployment requires appointments

Starting today, the Hawaii Department of Labor & Industrial Relations' Honolulu office will be taking appointments for those filing for unemployment benefits if they are not applying online in response to the coronavirus outbreak. 

The department said Neighbor Island offices in Hilo, Kealakekua, Wailuku, and Lihue will switch to appointments tomorrow. The move is in response to government guidance to avoid large gatherings as the number of COVID-19 cases mount.

The state announced yesterday that it is waiving the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits if an individual lost his or her job because of the coronavirus.

THIS IS A BREAKING STORY. See our previous report below:

A Kapi‘olani Medical Center for Women & Children health care worker who had traveled to the Mainland has tested positive for the coronavirus, the medical center said last night. 

After returning to Oahu, the worker came down with symptoms and was tested. She is now in self-quarantine, the medical center said in a statement.

"We have been working closely with the Hawai'i Department of Health to trace the health care worker's interactions with any patients and other health care colleagues," said Ray Vara, Hawaii Pacific Health president and CEO. Vara said, however, that the worker had no direct patient contact and co-workers who had interacted with the employee have been notified.

Vara said the medical center is following CDC guidance and "taking every precaution needed to ensure the health and safety of our patients, visitors and staff."

The case follows news yesterday that Hawaii has its first community-spread case. The Kualoa Ranch employee has no travel history, according to media reports, and lives in a multi-generational household.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said he was told that a mother, a child and another adult were tested and one of them tested positive.

As of yesterday afternoon, the Departmemt of Health reported the number of state cases of COVID-19 stood at 10. The latest cases involve two O'ahu residents and one Maui visitor.

The department said it is monitoring the individuals, who are in isolation. Their familiy members are in self-quarantine. Health officials also released a list of screening and testing sites on its website, but the sites require individuals to call their doctor first if they have symptoms.

Caldwell yesterday announced the closing of city facilities and cancelation of city events, including Hanauma Bay and the popular Lei Day celebration on May 1.

He urged private companies, including hotels and other venues, to cancel large gatherings as officials advise everyone to practice social distancing -- stay away from crowds and put at least six feet between themselves and others.

The state Legislature also is suspending the 2020 legislative session indefinitey as the coronavirus outbreak grows in the islands.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates. 

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly listed Associated Press as the author.