The Latest: 109 New Cases; Teachers Want More DOH Guidance Before Reopening

Jul 29, 2020

Updated: 7/29/2020, 3:12 p.m. 

Hawaii Gov. David Ige says he is very concerned about today's record 109 COVID-19 cases, even though the spike was anticipated given the July 4th gatherings and other summer get-togethers. People are not maintaining their vigilance to socially distance and wear face masks, the governor said.

He said he and the mayors are discussing reinstating measures aimed at addressing the spread of the virus, including limiting gatherings to 10 or fewer.

He said he agrees with Mayor Kirk Caldwell's proposal to close bars in Honolulu for three weeks, and officials are working on how to do that. The governor has not yet formally approved Caldwell's request, which the mayor says will help stem the spread of COVID-19 and give city officials more time to assess how they can better enforce safety measures at bars.

Of today's 109 new cases, 98 are on Oahu, 9 on Maui and 2 on Kauai. A total of 5,160 tests were processed between Saturday and today, the health department said. About 1,000 to 2,000 tests are usually processed daily.

 

Although the high number in new cases also resulted from tests that were delayed as a result of Hurricane Douglas, it's clear that infection numbers are increasing sharply. The surge is putting pressure on the state to roll back its reopening and reinstate earlier restrictions to get the infection under control.

 

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino has called for the interisland travel quarantine to be restored and Caldwell has been cracking down on bars that violate city safety measures. The surge in cases is also a factor in the debate on whether to open public schools, which may be pushed from Aug. 4 to Aug. 17.

 

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said today that he was not looking at policy changes for his island, noting the relatively small number of COVID-19 cases that the Big Island has seen. He also said he did not support restoring the quarantine for interisland travel. 

 

State Health Director Bruce Anderson said the recent cases have been widespread in the community, especially on Oahu.

 

“We are seeing an increase in small and large social gatherings, including gatherings on beaches and in our parks, at homes and in workplaces. We have also recently seen an increase in cases associated with bars, gyms, other establishments where physical distancing and masking is not regularly practiced," he said.

 

"Based on data collected on cases through our investigations and contact tracing, we are recommending that strategic actions be taken to further restrict activities associated with these cases,” said Anderson, again singling out bars and gyms.

 

Caldwell said he was told of a cluster that was tied to a funeral where many gathered without face masks and 30 to 40 COVID-19 cases have now come out of it.

 

Until Monday, the state had been seeing a string of record-setting days in new cases. On Friday, the state reported 60 new cases, followed by a record 73 on Saturday, and 64 on Sunday. There were 28 cases Monday, because of the cutback in lab operations during the hurricane emergency.

 

 

State and county officials have continually urged residents to socially distance, wear face masks, maintain good hygiene and not go to work if sick. But they say residents have grown lax in their practices, attending social gatherings and other events without face masks and physically distancing.

 

The state's total number of COVID-19 cases now stands at 1,865 cases. Out of that total, 1,516 are cases on Oahu, 163 in Maui County, 116 in Hawaii County, and 47 in Kauai County. One case was dropped from Oahu's count based on updated information.

 

There were 23 residents diagnosed outside of the state. There 36 people hospitalized and 26 deaths.

Correction: The days when the 5,160 tests were conducted have been corrected. A previous version of this story had other information based on a state news release.

HSTA wants more DOH guidance

Before children can return to public schools, the teachers union is seeking more guidance from the state health and education departments -- and it wants more time to implement safety precautions.

The union's demands follow a conditional agreement announced Monday by the Department of Education and the teachers to postpone the school reopening from August 4th to August 17th.

"The Department of Health has still not given us guidance of what should happen in case there is an illness at the school or if someone gets sick," said Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee.

"We need guidance about how many cases it needs to occur before we close down a school or close down the school system. And that's something that we're still hoping to get from the Department of Health and that should absolutely occur before students return on campus."

Health Director Bruce Anderson says schools should look to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for guidance. But he’s also said that schools should not reopen if they feel unprepared.

By delaying the reopening, School Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said the schools can take the extra time to prepare to welcome back students.

The state Board of Education will need to vote Thursday on whether to postpone the start of the academic year. At least three board members voiced their support for a delay at the last BOE meeting.

The board will also have to agree to reduce the 180-day school year, as mandated by law.

--HPR's Ashley Mizuo

Japan's 'travel bubble' appeals to mayor

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is looking forward to seeing travel resume between Hawaii and Japan.

Gov. David Ige announced this week that Japan plans to reopen international travel, and Hawaii is among the destinations it is considering.

Caldwell says Japan’s safety protocols, where visitors stick with their group within a "travel bubble," are stringent. That is positive news for Hawaii, which is leery of visitors who could bring in COVID-19 while also needing to restart its economy.

“We've now been meeting with various interests dealing with the Japan travel bubble for over two months and they've met with the mayors, all of us had gotten together," he said. "And the program they have is so tight -- literally arrive on a plane, everyone, everyone is tested, and negative. They get on chartered buses and they go to a hotel, so they're all together -- they to go to a hotel, a pre-designated hotel. They only go to certain restaurants, pre-designated. They only go to certain visitor attractions, pre-designated.

"When the trip is pau, they go back on that bus to the airport and go through, very controlled, very monitored. I think the safety protocols are so darn good. There'd be very little risk...I wish we could do it tomorrow."

Ige says there’s no timetable for when Japan might resume travel. Japan officials plan to first reopen to Asia destinations like China and South Korea. Then they would consider Hawaii and locations in Europe.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

Counties disagree on ballot drop boxes 

Counties are opening up drop box locations for the primary mail-in ballots across the state. However, some are opening up before others, causing worries about how that might impact the elections. 

Oahu’s ballot drop boxes are open while Hawai’i County officials say they are following the law and waiting until August 3rd -- five days before the election. 

Kauai County says it's opening its seven drop box locations this Friday.

Glen Takahashi is the City and County of Honolulu clerk who is in charge of elections. He says the county wanted to give voters more time to use the drop boxes. But the county also recommends that voters use the U.S. Postal Service to send in ballots.

“It’s important to know that the places of deposit are not the only places where you can return a ballot, right? Voters are not required to use our places of deposit. In fact, we would actually recommend the USPS," he said.

"It’s actually, probably, a lot more convenient. There are actually a lot of blue USPS collection receptacles around the island and another 130 facilities. So, that’s actually what we recommend, but for those who would like to use our drop receptacles we have them.”

County elections officials wouldn’t speculate on whether results would be affected by the different drop box times. 

A list of all places of deposit across the state can be found on the state Office of Elections website.  Those sending in their mail ballot, should be sure to post it at least five days ahead of the August 8th primary.

--HPR's Amy Nakamura

 

Kauai's voter service center now open

 

Kauai County's voter service center opened yesterday in Conference Rooms A/B of the county's Pi‘ikoi Building in Līhu‘e. Voters who prefer to vote in person rather use the mail ballots can drop by the service center Monday to Saturday, except Sundays.

 

Through Aug. 7, the center's hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. On Aug. 8, primary election day, the hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

 

People can also register to vote and vote on the same day at the service center or drop off their mail ballots. 

Because of social gathering guidelines due to COVID-19, voters may experience long wait times since only a limited number of voters will be allowed in the voting area at one time.

Entry to the voter service center will only be through the rollup door facing Hardy Street. Six-foot distances between people and face masks are encouraged.

Additional information is available from the Kauai Office of the County Clerk, Elections Division, at (808) 241-4800.

Returning residents double the number of arriving visitors

 

The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported 2,671 people arrived on Monday at state airports, with over 1,053 returing residents and 525 visitors.

 

State officials have recommended residents not to travel at this time given the surge in COVID-19 cases here and on the Mainland but the number of returning residents continues to climb. 

 

Health Director Bruce Anderson said recent infections for residents that are travel-related have exceeded those among visitors.

 

Others arriving Monday included 380 crew members, 164 transiting travelers, 176 military members, 225 people exempt from quarantine and 148 who say they are relocating to the islands.

 

 

 

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.