The Latest: 0 Deaths, 107 Cases; Hawaii Inmate In Arizona Dies Of Virus; City Facing $400M Shortfall

Nov 19, 2020

Updated: 11/19/2020, 12:08 p.m. 

The state Department of Health today reported 107 new COVID-19 cases and no additional deaths.

Given the state’s recent reporting changes that delay the numbers for two days, the latest daily count represents cases for Tuesday athrough 11:59 p.m.

Based on the latest numbers, Oahu saw 75 new cases, Hawaii County 12, Kauai 4, Maui 9 and Lanai and Molokai 0. 

Oahu has recorded 14,506 cases, Hawaii County 1,499, Maui 463, Lanai 106, Kauai 86 and Molokai 17. There have been 164 cases diagnosed out of state. The death toll stands at 223.

Based on updated information, two Oahu cases were recategorized, one to Hawaii County and the second to the out-of-state count.

Hawaii inmate in Arizona dies of coronavirus

A Hawaii inmate imprisoned at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona has died of COVID-19, according to the state Department of Public Safety. The department said the man in his 60s passed away on Tuesday. 

The case is the first death among Hawaii inmates confirmed in medical examiner's reports as a COVID-19 related fatality, the department said. 

"We have been in contact with his family and let him know that our heartfelt condolences and thoughts are with them during this difficult time," said Tommy Johnson, DPS deputy director, in a statement. "We will be bringing him home to Hawaii for his family."

Hawaii inmates at Saguaro have undergone mass testing since an outbreak last month. Some 662 of 1,079 Hawaii inmates in the facility are being re-tested. As of today, 393 had tested positive and recovered, 138 are positive and active, and 546 have had negative results.

Of the 138 positive and active cases, the department said 131 will complete their 14-day medical isolation tomorrow. The remaining 7 include 3 who will remain in isolation and 4 who are in the hospital. The inmates testing negative remain in quarantine as a precaution.

$400M city budget shortfall projected for next year

Honolulu’s acting budget director says the city faces a $400 million budget shortfall in the next fiscal year. Manny Valbuena provided the grim forecast to the City Council’s budget committee yesterday.

Some have called for tax breaks to help struggling residents and businesses cope with the economic crisis caused by COVID-19.

But Valbuena advised against tax relief for now – citing uncertainty about the impacts from the pandemic.

Valbuena says the city should be fine this fiscal year but he told the committee that he’s "chasing a shortfall" next year.

"Fuel tax is down, nobody’s driving around, rental cars aren’t moving around. Even my gas consumption is a lot lower now because there’s no traffic. All the sources of revenue," he said.

"And, remember, there’s a big expense coming in FY ’22 that we never budgeted before. That’s the rail operations. Fare box is not going to be close to O&M (operations and maintenance) of the rail, and that’s only up to Aloha Stadium. We gotta budget that for FY '22. That’s part of the over $400 million shortfall that we’re looking at."

Valbuena says the operation and maintenance of the rail system is expected to cost $160 million in 2022.

Next year’s projected shortfall is preliminary and he says he hopes it can be reduced.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

City officials ask feds for rail deadline extension

Honolulu officials are awaiting a response from the Federal Transit Administration after sending a letter asking for an extension to preserve funding for the rail project.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell in September withdrew the city from a public-private partnership that was to build the last four miles of the rail line. 

The city risks losing $250 million in federal funds if a plan for the final stretch is not finalized by the end of the year. Caldwell now anticipates the project will be completed between 2026 and 2033.

Last Friday, Caldwell -- along with City Council budget chair Joey Manahan and HART board chair Tobias Martyn -- sent a letter to the FTA requesting an extension to submit the plan for the final stretch.

The letter cited delays, cost increases, and HART CEO Andy Robbins’ refusal to terminate the private-public process as reasons for the request.

The City Council's transportation committee is scheduled to hear an update from Robbins on the rail project at a meeting today at 1 p.m. that will be aired on ‘Ōlelo 54 public access television.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

Fire Chief: Department taking steps after critical audit on overtime, spending

Honolulu Fire Chief Manuel Neves acknowledged the fire department is "not good at paperwork" as he responded yesterday to an audit critical of the department's overtime and spending.

Neves updated the City Council's budget committee on the department's efforts to remedy the issues.

An audit this summer by the city Department of Budget and Fiscal Services found the fire department 's overtime nearly doubled between 2015 and 2019. 

Neves says there were significant changes in that time period, including revisions in the firefighters' union contract.

"Part of the collective bargaining introduced this new concept where it's called rank for rank. When you have a rank personnel, which is over 500 of our personnel, we have 1,200. But 500 are either firefighter twos, threes, captains, battalion chiefs, they're all ranked.

"What it says is that we have to offer all ranked personnel 288 hours of overtime every year. It's not based on need, it's just based on -- that's part of the contract. So that's a huge increase into our budget in our non-base pay that it just took it off the charts."

The department is working on an action plan that includes an upgrade of its overtime policy, new forms and instruction manuals. All are aimed at correcting deficiencies cited in the audit.

The plan is expected to be completed by the end of the year or early next year.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

Outbreak reported at Waiawa Correctional Facility

Eight Waiawa Correctional Facility inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, the state Department of Public Safety reported yesterday. Some 130 inmates have been placed in quarantine as a precaution.

The eight inmates were isolated while they awaited their results, which came yesterday morning. Two other inmates are also in isolation awaiting test results. The Department of Health is conducting contact tracing.

Department staff were notified and directed to reach out to their medical providers if they have questions about possible exposure to the virus. 

Oahu Community Correctional Center, which had a major outbreak earlier this year, continues to test inmates. In the latest round of 196 tests, four were positive and the rest were negative.

Survey: Confidence in air travel up slightly

More people are feeling a little bit better about air travel.

That’s according to a recent national survey by the Omnitrak Group, which found a slight increase in confidence in air travel from September to October.

The company regularly surveys travelers to Hawaii.

Chris Kam, president and COO, says the small confidence boost could come from a combination of factors.  

“Our measurements of travel confidence have just inched up in October relative to where they were in September. We saw a slight increase in the percentage of people saying that they were more interested in traveling now than they were a year ago, and we also see that the percentage of people saying that travel is less safe now compared to a year ago - that number has gone down just ever so slightly.

"So, increasing interest, decreasing concerns about safety; those are just really small changes in the marketplace.”

For more on the recent survey which examines travel confidence during the pandemic, visit The Conversation page.