The Latest: 1 Death, 52 New Cases; 2nd Death At Life Care Center In Hilo

Oct 5, 2020

 

Updated: 10/5/2020, 12:15 p.m. The Hawaii Department of Health today reported 1 death from COVID-19 and 52 new cases. The latest statewide case count brought the total number of infections to 12,854 since the pandemic began. Deaths total 157. 

There have now been 11,546 cases on Oahu (41 new cases), 820 on Hawaii Island (10 cases), 395 for Maui County (1 case), and 59 (no new cases) on Kauai County. Those diagnosed out of state stood at 34. Two cases were removed from the Maui count due to updated information.

There has been a second death reported at the Life Care Center in Hilo, the Hilo Medical Center reported yesterday.

The nursing home has been dealing with a growing outbreak involving about 20 residents and staff following the postive test of a worker last week.

Hawaii County saw a sharp spike in new COVID-19 cases over the weekend, with 15 new cases reported yesterday and 43 cases on Saturday. 

According to the Hawaii County Civil Defense, much of the increase can be attributed to clusters at the Life Care Center and Christian-based University of Nations in Kona, which confirmed 16 positive cases yesterday.

There have been no new deaths reported in recent days at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home, where 27 elderly residents have died and 106 residents and staff have tested positive. 

 

Council wants HART to 'come clean' on rail costs
 

Honolulu City Council members hope today to get answers to their questions about the controversial rail project in light of recent developments.

The council’s transportation and budget committees are holding a special meeting to hear from Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation CEO Andy Robbins.

Councilmembers want to understand why the city withdrew two weeks ago from the procurement process for what’s known as P-3. The public-private partnership is crucial to financing and constructing the final stretch of the rail project into the urban core.

The committees also hope to get details on why there are delays in relocating utilities for rail in the city center.

Budget Chair Joey Manahan said Friday that recent events are very concerning.

"At least from my perspective, I’m worried that the price has increased from $9.1 billion, right, which Andy has consistently maintained that the project is still at $9.1 billion," he said.

"But we’ve heard reports of some of the P-3 bids coming in 2 billion over. And if the idea was to mitigate cost and risk ... I’m worried that that’s not happening anymore. And I’m worried that HART is going to overcommit to the P-3, and overcommit our property taxes. And we’re not going to be able to cover those payments."

Manahan said he’s also worried about the financial shortfalls that both the project and city are facing and the impact on the city's bond rating.

HART needs to come clean with the city, Manahan said. The council has previously criticized the lack of transparency about the project’s true costs.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

Caldwell parts company with other mayors on more tourist tests immediately

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell says he would like visitors to take a second test when the state waives the travel quarantine for those testing negative for COVID-19.

He joins the mayors of Maui and Kauai in wanting more than the single pre-travel test. But he says the state can't do it immediately.

"As mayor of the City and County of Honolulu, I also prefer a two-testing regime -- one a pre-test 72 hours before leaving and a second one four days later. That's what I would like," he said.

"What I like and what I can have are two different things. No test is not as good as one test. And one test is better than no test and two tests are better than one test. We know that people are not following the quarantine and breaking it. And that exposes our residents to a potential spread of the virus. So coming in with a pre-test, knowing they're negative is a positive step in the right direction."

Caldwell said labs can now run between 3,000 to 5,000 tests a day statewide. And as many as 8,000 visitors daily are expected when the state opens up Oct. 15 without a quarantine for those who test negative for COVID.

The city is working to build Oahu's testing capacity so that any visitor or returning resident who doesn't get a pre-test can get tested, the mayor said.

Then if the state sees cases increase, Caldwell says the city will ask the governor to allow for two tests. But he adds it's not ready to do that now.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

City expects tourists to follow COVID-19 mandates

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell says he’s working with the state and tourism industry to ensure visitors know to follow the city’s COVID-19 mandates.

The state is reopening to tourists without the 14-day quarantine on October 15th – so long as the visitors test negative for COVID before they arrive.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green gave an update on the pre-travel test plan last week, saying the counties will still need to enforce state and county safety rules.

Caldwell says he expects tourists to follow the law.

"If they do not, we will use our enforcement tools to make sure they come into compliance," he said. "It may be a warning at first, but it could get stiffer – if they don’t abide and comply.

 

"And I think the first line of defense rests with the airlines, and then the hotels and, of course, those who manage it – the tourism authority, tourism and lodging – getting the word out as to what the requirements are when you come to Oahu."

More details on the state’s pre-travel program are expected later this week.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

Telecom company problems mount, Hawaiian Home Lands service falls

Some residents on Hawaiian Home Lands say internet service on their homesteads is performing at frustratingly low speeds at a time when families are more reliant on the service for school and work.

It really comes down to a matter of infrastructure – and a Hawaiʻi telecom company facing serious financial and legal trouble.

Sandwich Isles Communciations is embroiled in two federal court cases and owes the U.S.government hundreds of millions of dollars.

This could explain complaints from Hawaiian Home Lands residents fed up with the lack of adequate internet on the homestead.

“Even before the pandemic, internet service was less than ideal,” reads an online petition by
Hawaiian homestead residents on Molokaʻi.

The petition calls on Sandwich Isles to either improve its service or remove itself as the internet
service provider.

The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands granted Sandwich Isles an exclusive license in 1995 to provide telecom services on the homesteads. The company used federal funds aimed at providing those services to rural, underserved communities to build a network of fiber optic cables connecting 3,600 households on Hawaiian Home Lands statewide.

Sandwich Isles ran into trouble five years ago when its founder Al Hee was convicted of federal tax fraud and served nearly four years in prison. The company was later stripped of $257 million in assets. Hee now faces nearly $50 million in fines for defrauding the U.S. government.

Still, DHHL has not revoked the company’s license. As landowner, the state agency could grant a license to another company, but much of the telecom infrastructure belongs to Sandwich Isles.

With mounting debt and hefty fines, the company may be forced to sell this infrastructure. 

--HPR's Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi.

Economist reflects on pre-travel testing and COVID-19 cases

A week from Thursday is the day that pre-travel testing takes effect for travelers to Hawaii.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green says the state can expect some 8,000 visitors a day.

One local economist is cautious about the potential impact of the reopening on the rise of COVID-19 cases.

But Paul Brewbaker of TZ Economics says technological advances in testing can make a crucial difference for state health officials.

“We’re going to learn as we go," he said. "But things like rapid testing — and, you know, the spit in a cup test, or whatever — these alternatives — less accurate but shorter turn-around testing formats will become available at lower cost and make it easier to engage more actively — more aggressively in the first step — which is screening through testing. So that’s definitely a good sign — and I’m glad to hear they’re embracing it.”

Brewbaker says technology can also be better used for contact tracing, including making use of apps on smart phones to track arriving visitors.

For more on the conversation with Brewbaker, visit The Conversation page.

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.