The Latest: 173 New Cases; Mayor Warns Of 'Drastic' Actions If Trend Continues

Aug 5, 2020

Updated: 8/5/2020, 12:35 p.m.

The state Department of Health reported 173 new COVID-19 cases today. All are on Oahu and reflects another triple-digit day of new infections.

Yesterday, the department reported the state's 27th death. The Honolulu man, between 40 to 59 years old, had underlying medical conditions. The man's death was reported to the health department by the Honolulu medical examiner. An investigation into his cause of death continues but it is being recorded as a COVID-19 fatality.

Yesterday's case count included 139 on Oahu and 5 on Hawaii Island. Among the clusters reported were 71 cases linked to a series of funeral events, 12 cases tied to a birthday party and 6 cases associated with a hot yoga class. 

Most of the new cases are linked to community spread and only 2 associated with travel, although the risk factor for 118 are still under investigation, the health department said.

The state's total case count now stands at 2,763. Out of that total, 2,394 cases are on Oahu, 177 in Maui County, 122 in Hawaii County, and 47 in Kauai County. There have been 23 residents diagnosed outside of the state, 214 people hospitalized and 27 deaths. One Maui case was removed from the counts due to updated information.

The rising case numbers are a factor in debates about rolling back the reopening, delaying the start of public schools -- now scheduled to resume on Aug. 17 -- as well as the reopening of trans-Pacific travel starting on Sept. 1.

Among the new cases and developments:

• A positive case has been reported at a Hilo dialysis center, the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency said in news release today. The state Department of Health and the County of Hawaii Task Force are working with the Liberty Dialysis administration in responding to the incident, the agency said. There have been screening and testing of those who could have been infected. About 200 people have already been tested as of yesterday. The dialysis facilities is being disinfected, officials say.

• A second firefighter from the Moanalua Fire Station tested positive for COVID-19, the Honolulu Fire Department said yesterday in a news release. The employee has been placed on leave, and affected personnel from the Moanalua Fire Station are in self-quarantine. HFD now has a total of eight firefighters who have tested positive: five from the Hawaii Kai Fire Station, one from the Kalihi Kai Fire Station, and now two from the Moanalua Fire Station. 

• All hearings and trials at the South Kohala Distrct Court in the Waimea Civic Center are canceled through Friday while the court is closed for professional cleaning and disinfection. An employee who was asymptomatic tested positive, the court announced earlier this week. Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald extended the filing deadline to Aug. 10 for documents due to the district court Aug. 5-Aug. 7.

Mayor warns of 'drastic' actions if upward trend continues

Mayor Kirk Caldwell is pleading with Oahu residents to wear masks, physically distance, and follow the city’s emergency mandate. His request yesterday follows several days of new COVID cases in the triple digits as well as the death of a middle-aged Honolulu man.

Caldwell recently limited social gatherings to no more than 10 people and shut down Oahu bars for three weeks. But he says if the upward trend in cases continues, he’s ready to take even more drastic actions.

"Because there’s such large gatherings in parks, we could look at, perhaps, limiting tents in parks. That’s going to be very difficult to enforce. But it’s something that could be on the plate, that’s been talked about in the past.

"We could also close parks all together, like we did in the early days of the pandemic. And maybe closing with just limited exercise opportunities. You know, we could go all the way back to shutting everything down, which we do not want to do."

Caldwell adds he knows people are upset with his recent measures – but he says he took them to protect the health and safety of residents.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

Groups call for state to better enforce eviction moratorium 

Several Hawaii legal rights groups are calling on the state to better enforce its moratorium on evictions.

The groups say some landlords have been evicting or threatening to push out tenants who have not paid rent or made partial rent.

“Like so many other issues we're seeing today, the lack of enforcement for these illegal evictions is revealing these really long standing problems of unfair treatment by too many landlords against their tenants," said Dina Shek, legal director for the Medical-Legal Partnership for Children.

"There’re problems that we've seen for a long time and now, like so many other things, are further exploding during a pandemic. I'm particularly concerned that the state needs to do a much better job of enforcing and prosecuting violations of the eviction moratorium," she said. "We've seen too many people being illegally evicted by landlords, even when they are caught up with rent or waiting long delayed unemployment benefits, and these are clear violations of the governor's emergency orders.”

The groups also called on landlords to negotiate with their tenants now – before the moratorium expires at the end of August.

They say rather than take the illegal route of evicting tenants, the landlords would do better to come to terms on rent payments.

The groups say any tenant needing help can call the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii. For information, visit the Legal Aid website

EMS acting chief appeals to public to prevent spread, call only if emergency

Honolulu’s Emergency Medical Services is asking the public to do its part in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

This follows the news over the past weekend that two paramedics tested positive for the virus. That’s adding some stress to a system already facing staffing challenges.

EMS Acting Chief Chris Sloman says Honolulu paramedics have asked for more resources from the state and city in recent years, but EMS is prepared currently to help protect its staff from COVID-19 and continue to serve the community.

"But if things were to get worse, and we had large numbers and that we weren’t able to staff all the units, as it were, we have plans in place to start using potentially BLS (basic life support) ambulances where we have EMTs that would augment and take the lower calls – to keep ALS (advanced life support) ambulances available for the higher calls. 

"There are things in place where we may use just in time drivers to help augment the system and that sort of stuff. There’s a whole host of things all the way down the line, including requesting resources from the state, etc."

Sloman says the only way to prevent the system from becoming overwhelmed is for residents to help stop the spread of COVID-19 -- and call paramedics only for emergencies.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

Returning resident arrested in quarantine violation case

State attorney general special agents arrested Ivette Rosales, 29, of Honolulu, on Monday for an alleged violation of the state’s mandatory 14-day traveler quarantine.

 

A witness reported that she left her residence to jog and shop on six days after returning to Oahu on July 21. She reportedly moved out of her place of quarantine without notifying authorities. 

 

She was booked and charged and had bail set at $2,000. She is the 26th person arrested by special agents in quarantine violation cases.

 

Returning residents top 1,000 once again

 

The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported 3,462 people arrived on Monday, including 1,181 returning residents and 958 visitors. 

The numbers of returning residents and visitors continue to swell despite a mandatory 14-day travel quarantine for all arrivals and surging COVID-19 cases on the Mainland and on Oahu.

 

Health officials have urged residents not to travel at this time unless essential because of the danger that they can bring back the virus to the islands, as some have done.

 

Others arriving at state airports include 306 crew members, 183 transiting travelers, 211 military members, and 296 travelers exempt from quarantine. Another 327 travelers said 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.