The Latest: 2 Deaths, 155 Cases; Lifting Of Oahu Restrictions Possible; Kauai Seeks Tiered Reopening

Oct 9, 2020

Updated: 10/9/2020, 12:47 p.m.

The Hawaii Department of Health today reported two new deaths from COVID-19 and 155 new cases. The latest statewide case count brought the total number of infections to 13,300 since the pandemic began. Deaths total 166. 

There have now been 11,896 cases on Oahu, 911 on Hawaii Island, 397 for Maui County, and 59 on Kauai County. Those diagnosed out of state stood at 36. 

The recent daily numbers are reflecting a reversal of double-digit cases into triple-digit territory again, this time driven by increasing numbers on Hawaii Island, which today saw an increase of 45 reported cases.

Yesterday's 7-day average positivity rate stood at 2.6% statewide, 3.2% on Oahu, 2.7% on Hawaii Island, 0% on Kauai, and 0.3% on Maui.

Yesterday's single death was a female in her 50s. She had underlying medical conditions and had been hospitalized, the state said. 

Hilo Medical Center yesterday reported another COVID-19 fatality, bringing the total number of community deaths to six. Seven COVID patients are hospitalized, including one in the ICU.

The deaths are separate from the fatalities at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home, 27 of whose residents have died and where 106 residents and staff have tested positive for COVID.

The Life Care Center of Hilo reported one more staff tested positive. That brings the number of residents testing positive to 32 and staff testing positive to 10. Over the past weekend, two residents died.

Testing was completed yesterday at the University of Nations in Kailua-Kona, where about 30 students and staff have tested positive in one of the largest clusters on the island. The university said 463 tests were completed yesterday and combined with testing on Tuesday totaled 955 people. Full results were pending but three positives were reported.

Low case count could trigger easing of Oahu restrictions

Oahu could move into the second phase of the city’s reopening as soon as Oct. 22, if new COVID-19 cases on the island continue on a downward trend.

The tiered approach to reopening depends on two measures – test positivity rates and a seven-day average of new cases.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell said yesterday that Oahu is doing well, but further easing of restrictions depends on residents.

"We, the mayor and our administration, can’t be everywhere asking people to wear face coverings, not going to large gatherings, sticking with five, washing your hands all the time. And being six feet apart," he said. "If we keep doing that, we can get to tier two, folks. And then on to tier three and there to tier four."

Tier 2 would allow for gatherings of five or less who need not be in the same household. It would also reopen personal care services and lift more restrictions on gyms.

The mayor said he expects a bump in cases when the state reopens next week to tourists, without quarantine, if they test negative for COVID. But he said if residents continue to follow the rules, it shouldn’t prevent the lifting of more restrictions.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

Kauai opts into pre-travel testing program but asks governor for tiered reopening

Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami has submitted a proposal to Gov. David Ige that would create a tiered county system for reopening similar to Honolulu's.

If approved by Ige, the request would allow the Garden Island to move forward with the state pre-travel testing program on Oct. 15. The program allows visitors to skip the 14-day quarantine if they test negative for COVID-19.

But Kawakami's proposal also pinpoints when Kauai would opt out of the state pre-test plan and reinstate the travel quarantine for arrivals.

Kauai's proposed four-tiered system calls for the first, most restrictive tier when there is a one-week average of eight or more daily COVID cases on the island. No pre-testing quarantine exemptions would be allowed.

The second tier is when the seven-day average of daily cases reaches between five and eight. That would automatically trigger Kauai's opting out of the pre-travel testing program. The 14-day quarantine would be reinstated.

The third tier would kick in when the weekly average of case drops to two to four daily. At this stage, transpacific travelers who test negative in pre-travel tests could skip quarantine.

The fourth tier, the least restrictive, is when the average of cases is less than two daily -- where Kauai is now. Nearly all businesses and activiies can operate witn minimal restrictions.  

Kawakami has maintained the state's one-test reopening scheme is not enough to keep the islands safe from a possible surge in COVID cases. The county ordered thousands of test kits in preparation for visitors and returning residents to take second tests. The aim was to conduct the tests several days after a traveler arrives.

"By opting in to the state's pre-travel test plan, the county is also opting in to Lt. Gov. [Josh] Green's recently-announced surveillance program, which will offer an additional layer of testing here on island," said Kawakami in a news release.

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino also backed a second test for tourists. But on Wednesday, after Ige denied a second test, Victorino signed on to the pre-test program.

Maui joins Oahu in participating in the pre-test program. The Big Island has opted out, according to Hawaii Island Mayor Harry Kim.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

Last stretch of rail project up in the air

The fate of the Honolulu rail system is unsettled now that the city has pulled out from the partnership that's supposed to build the final stretch.

A dispute over the cost of the proposals to construct the four-mile urban section threatens to delay the $9.1 billion project again as well as jeopardize federal funds.

HART CEO Andy Robbins told the agency's board yesterday that the city shouldn't just quit the effort to choose a private contractor from among several submitted proposals. 

"We continue to go through this process trying to convince the city not to withdraw too quickly, at least to conduct a post-proposal discussions with proposers. These are the proposers, the private sector partners, that work diligently for almost two years to put proposals together," he said.

"And I can tell you from my own experience, they spend millions of dollars doing that, when they could have gone to California, they could have gone to Canada, but they stayed with us in Honolulu to try to make this project happen." 

But Mayor Kirk Caldwell says the city has pulled out of the private-public partnership, known as P3, because it is concerned about the cost.

"I heard that there's a lot of sympathy for the bidders who work hard and long on these proposals. And then somehow, if we don't work with them, they're gonna go to Los Angeles or Canada," he said.

"My commitment is to the taxpayers of the City and County of Honolulu, as I believe yours is. If they decide to go somewhere else, that's their decision. And I don't think it's my job as a mayor or your job as a HART board to worry about where they're going to go or how they're going to feel," he said.

"Our job is to bring home bids that are appropriate for the project that can be financed by the taxpayers of the State of Hawaii, the City and County of Honolulu and ... by the United States."

The HART board took no action on the P3 process yesterday but is scheduled to meet again later this month.

The project is facing a deadline: $250 million in federal funds could be lost if officials fail to show progress in developing the rail system by the end of the year.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

FBI search Big Island community television offices

FBI agents have served a search warrant at the offices of public access broadcaster Na Leo TV in Hilo.

Special Agent Jason White would only confirm that the warrant was part of an “ongoing operation,” and he gave no further information about the case.      

Na Leo’s Assistant General Manager Micah Alameda said in an emailed statement yesterday that the “staff and management are fully cooperating,” adding “we have no further comment or information at this time.”

The action led to the postponement of a candidate forum that the station had scheduled for last night.

--HPR's Bill Dorman