Hawaii Updates: Teachers Union Wants Delay In School Reopening; 25 New Cases; 2nd Bar Closed Down

Jul 21, 2020

Updated: 7/21/20 at 12:55 p.m.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association, which represents public school teachers, is calling for the postponement of the planned Aug. 4 reopening of classes.

At a press conference today, HSTA President Corey Rosenlee asked when the state Department of Health will provide written guidance on the school reopening.

Yesterday, at a press conference with Gov. David Ige, state Epidemiologist Sarah Park said there would be no written guidance because the recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should be sufficient.

HSTA thinks there has not been enough guidance on how students will be properly distanced and that there hasn't been enough training. The normal four, student-free preparation days before school starts aren't enough time, the union said.

This is a developing story. Please return for updates.

--HPR's Ashley MIzuo

 

Where we stand

The Hawaii Health Department reported 25 new COVID-19 cases today. Of those new cases, 21 are on Oahu, and four are in Maui County.

The state's total case count now stands at 1,418. Oahu has 1,100 cases, Maui County has 139, Hawai’i County has 114, and Kauai County has 43. The death count remains at 24. About 151 people have required hospitalization. There are 22 residents who were diagnosed out of state. Some 1,084 people have been released from isolation. 

Hawai’i officials plan for schools reopening

Hawai Gov. David Ige says the state is taking precautions to ensure that schools are able to safely reopen on Aug. 4th, but he said that the broader community also has an important role to play.

He particularly urged parents against sending their kids to school who are showing any signs of sickness.

"That has to change. We all need to be personally responsible for what happens. Sending our children to school when they’re sick, just doesn’t work anymore," Ige said, speaking at a press conference yesterday with school and health officials. "Employers have to be willing to work with parents. Not every student will be on campus every day that school is open.

 

"We all need to be committed to help parents work through those changes, to make arrangements for child care and care of their children, because they will be home some of the time as schools reopen."

 

Many schools will be using a mix of classroom and remote learning —and the first two weeks of classes will be half days.

The governor also noted that opening in early August is a decision that affects not only education, but also tourism.

“The August 4th reopening date was one of the reasons we decided to delay the pre-testing program for trans-Pacific arrivals here in our community," he said.

"We believed — in discussions with all the mayors — that there was so much activity scheduled for August that it would be better to phase in the increased activities and the increasing number of cases that we do expect to see as these things occur.”

Board of Education Chair Catherine Payne says she’s heard from public school teachers who say they worry that classrooms are reopening without adequate safety measures in place.

But she believes students will be safe in August, before the state reopens to visitors in September. Payne says the schools should take the month to connect teachers and students.

“This is a time when we have to have the children and the teachers build some relationships. Because if we have to go into distance learning again, it's going to be really important for the students and the teachers to know one another," she said. "And the longer we delay opening or if we go straight into distance learning, we are going to lose a lot more children to deficient educational services than we can afford to lose as a state.”

Payne says if distance learning is to succeed, students -- especially young ones -- need to have those relationships with their teachers.

School Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said the governor has agreed to use federal COVID-19 relief funds to expand telehealth services into the school year.

An additional 15 registered nurses will be added to the DOE's current public health nurses and devices will be provided to students whose families chose to do distance learning full-time. 

And she says there will be a statewide “help desk” available to assist parents with questions as students go back to school.

When Ige was asked how much the additional assistance would amount to, the governor did not answer the question and said instead that the administration is working to understand the DOE's needs.  

The latest updates on the school reopening, including the number for a toll-free hotline, are available at hawaiipublicschoos.org.

 

Green wants 500 contract tracers, criticizes DOH reluctance

Calls for more contact tracers continue among state officials – although the Department of Health says it has enough for now.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green has been vocal about the need for more of the workers, especially with the pending September reopening to trans-Pacific travelers who get pre-tested.

Health officials maintain there are enough contact tracers to sufficiently handle local cases and they have been reluctant to hire many more.

Green believes the state needs 500 contact tracers if it’s to limit the spread of COVID-19 and safely reopen the state.

"We need that number because it takes down the stress on this much smaller cohort of contact tracers that the Department of Health has. They had stated they feel they have probably enough, but these things can get out of control very fast," Green said.

"And almost every other state has gone way past their capacity to take care of the contact tracing necessary. They’ve had to give up on it. We’re in a unique space where – we’re maybe the only state – that will not have to give up on contact tracing."

Green says he doesn’t understand the DOH’s reluctance to get more contact tracers, especially since they received $50 million in federal aid for testing and tracing.

HPR asked for a comment from DOH, but did not get an immediate response. The department has said in the past that it has 179 contract tracers from existing staff and is preparing to hire 20 more from a University of Hawaii training program.

Health Director Bruce Anderson has said the department is able to manage the current case load with its current workforce, even with the recent surge in infections. But he said if the state sees 40 to 50 cases a day over an extended period, then the staff would be stressed.

 

--HPR's Casey Harlow

 

City closes down another bar under new safety mandates

Honolulu Liquor Commission investigators shut down Tapas Waikiki Saturday night after they say they saw multiple violations of the mayor's latest emergency order to prevent spread of COVID-19.

The 24-hour closure is one of the new enforcement powers provided under the order issued last week. Bars can only sell liquor until midnight.

At about 11 p.m. Saturday, investigators said Tapas Waikiki at 407 Seaside Ave. was serving about 100 people with no social distancing enforced. Most of the customers were not wearing face coverings, they said.

Honolulu police were called to help close down the bar and counted about 120 people exiting, although the owner said the maximum capacity was 75.

"I wish all liquor establishments would follow Honolulu Emergency Orders, instead of a few jeopardizing everyone else's operations," Mayor Kirk Caldwell said in a statement. "While businesses are suffering right now, many will not survive another shutdown. Responsible behavior will allow businesses to remain open, and will keep their patrons safe."

The bar was cited for violation of conditions under its liquor commision license.

The city also closed down Café Gangnam on Keeaumoku Street for 24 hours on Saturday after receiving a complaint. The bar was found with about a dozen customers behind closed doors after the midnight closing time. They were not following social distancing or face mask requirements, the liquor commission investigators said.

Returning residents again outpacing visitor arrivals

A total of 2,209 people arrived in the islands Sunday, including 472 visitors and 826 returning residents. The rising numbers of returning residents is a concern to state health officials because the passengers are bringing back the virus.

Health Director Bruce Anderson told HPR last week that the residents should not travel to the Mainland if it is not necessary, adding there are few places there that are safe. 

Since the middle of May, there have been more residents returning positive than non-residents. He said 51 residents have come to Hawaii, and have been diagnosed COVID-positive and 13 non-residents have been positive.

Others arriving Sunday were 251 crew members, 197 transiting travelers, 174 military members, 188 people exempt from quarantine, and 101 passengers who say they are relocating to Hawaii.

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