The Latest: 140 Cases; Mayor Isolates, Honolulu Hale To Close; 6 OCCC Inmates, 3 ACOs Positive

Aug 10, 2020

Updated 8/10/20, 4:00 p.m.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is entering self-isolation and Honolulu Hale will close for cleaning this afternoon after an employee in the mayor's office tested positive for COVID-19, the mayor said today. Caldwell has been tested and expects to get his results back sometime tomorrow.

Honolulu Hale closed

Honolulu Hale is closed to the public until further notice, and all employees who work on the grounds are getting tested for COVID-19 due to the new cases at City Hall. 87 employees in Honolulu Hale were tested last week after a staffer with City Council services tested positive. At least three city hall employees tested positive last week.

During a press conference earlier today, Caldwell said the Honolulu Hale cluster now stands at ten -- bringing the total number of city employees testing positive to 48 since March.

Caldwell says as a result of the cluster, city employees who work at City Hall will do so remotely wherever possible until September. He says the closure will not impact some city functions.

"It does not mean that our satellite city halls will be closed," he said. "In fact, they will remain open, but for appointment only for critical things, like renewing your driver's license or getting your driving test completed."

Caldwell says stringent protocols have been in place for satellite city halls, and that's why they will remain open. Residents can still drop off tax payments and procurement bids, and voters that need to meet with the City Clerk's office can still access Honolulu Hale. But business will be limited to the first floor.

Business at the Frank Fasi building will also be limited for the Department of Planning and Permitting. Caldwell says those needing permits will be limited to dropping off and picking up documents.

"We want to keep the basic functions of government open, wherever possible," Caldwell said.

The City Council meeting scheduled for Wednesday is being postponed until next week. The day and time have yet to be determined. Council committee meetings slated for later this month are also being rescheduled.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

Governor appoints interim tax, labor department directors

Gov. David Ige announced former state Rep. Isaac Choy will serve as the interim director of the state Department of Taxation and state Labor Deputy Director Anne E. Perreira-Eustaquio will serve as acting director. 

Scott Murakami, who headed the department in the early days of the pandemic and bore the brunt of criticism about delays in issuing unemployment benefits, took leave in June. He resigned last week, the governor said in a news release.

“Scott was under a tremendous amount of stress and I felt that he deserved some time off. He has decided to resign from his position, and I respect that. I thank Scott for his service, and I wish him the best,” said Ige.

Choy, a licensed certified public accountant, is controller of Ko‘olauloa Health Center in Kahuku, and responsible for compliance and regulatory reporting. He also maintains the clinic’s accounting records and administers its annual budget. Choy also lectures on ethics, according to the governor's office.

Choy served in the House of Representatives from 2008 to 2018 and assumes his position as director today. His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Earlier this year, Ige's nominee for the tax director post, Rona Suzuki, withdrew from consideration after harsh questioning from senators.

Perreira-Eustaquio will serve as acting director for 60 days, or until the position is filled. She has served as deputy director since October 2019. 

Honolulu Police issue nearly 1,400 citations over weekend

The Honolulu Police Department says officers issued appoximately 1,350 citations for violating the mayor's emergency order. A news release says a majority of the citations were issued due to people being in closed parks and beaches. Fines were also given to those who were in gatherings of more than 10 people.

HPD says one person was arrested at Kailua Beach Park on Saturday afternoon. The male beachgoer attempted to kick an officer, while being told the park was closed.

Officers also cited a Pearlridge bar owner for operating illegally. HPD says the owner was ordered to close and surrender the business's liquor license.

HPD activated its COVID-19 complaint hotline on Sunday morning. A department release says more than 300 phone calls and 80 emails reporting possible violations were received in the first 24 hours. 

HPD asks anyone who suspects a violation of the city's emergency order is taking place, to call 808-723-3900 or email hpdcovidenforce@honolulu.gov

Where we stand

The Hawaii Department of Health reported 140 new cases today, bringing the state's total case count to 3,638. Oahu had most of the new cases. Out of stae's total count since the pandemic began here, 3,249 cases are on Oahu, 186 on Maui County, 131 on Hawaii County, and 49 on Kauai County. There have been 23 residents diagnosed outside of the state.

The director of the Hawaii Department of Health has warned there will be more deaths as the state reported its 31st fatality over the weekend. The latest death is an Oahu man older than 60, the department said. The state adjusted the death toll after the doctor of an elderly woman said she likely died of an underlying condition,

On Friday, another two deaths and 201 new cases of COVID-19 were reported. The deaths were both Oahu men with underlying medical ailments.

The first was older than 60 years old and had been in the hospital, the state said. He died on Aug. 4 after exposed to a positive household member. The second, 40 to 50 years old, passed away on Wednesday at home. The Honolulu medical examiner reported the unattended death. His family reported he had symptoms but did not seek medical care. 

"Unfortunately, with the dramatic surge in cases, we can expect more deaths in the coming weeks,’ said Health Director Bruce Anderson. "Hospitals throughout Oahu are transferring patients and opening up new specialized COVID units to handle the surge in patients that is expected over the next couple of weeks.” 

Anderson said the city's closing of beach and parks and other high risk activities will help prevent the spread of the virus, but it is not enough, and that all residents need to take responsibility to curb the virus.

Among the new cases and developments:

• The Hawaii Department of Public Safety reported that another inmate testing positive brings the total to six inmates and three adult correctional officers who have tested positive at the Oahu Community Correctional Center. The Department of Health is said to be conducting contact tracing of the cases.

• Two more firefighters from the Kalihi Kai Fire Station and one additional firefighter from the Hawaii Kai Fire Station have tested positive for COVID-19. The firefighters were already in self-quarantine when their tests were conducted. The Honolulu Fire Department currently has 14 firefighters who have tested positive: 6 from the Hawaii Kai station, 3 from the Moanalua station, and 5 from the Kalihi Kai station. All remain in self-quarantine. The department is redistributing its staff to maintain coverage in affected areas, it said in a release.

• Another TheBus driver has tested positive for COVID-19. The driver informed Oahu Transit Services, operator of the bus and handivan systems, of the positive test. He was placed on leave and quarantined. His last day of work was Monday and did not have any symptoms, the city said in a news release. On Monday, he drove bus #153 on route 42 (Ewa Beach-Waikiki) from 1:07 p.m. to 10:27 p.m. The city reminds riders that they should only take public transit for essential trips.

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.