The Latest: 2 More Deaths, 201 New Cases; Oahu Schools To Go Initially To Full Distance Learning

Aug 7, 2020

Updated: 8/7/2020, 3:46 p.m.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige announced today that Oahu public schools will go to 100% distance learning for at least four weeks when classes resume on Aug. 17. After an assessment, the state hopes to transition to a blended learning plan of distance learning and in-person classes starting on Sept. 14.

The announcement at an afternoon press conference comes after the state teachers union called for all-distance learning as its members continue to raise questions about their safety and that of students and staff.

"This is a challenging time," the governor said. "And I know that parents, teachers and students are worried. I also realize that keeping students at home is going to be an additional burden on working parents, but because of the recent surge on O‘ahu, I agree that this is the right approach."

School Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said urgency over the rising Oahu COVID-19 cases prompted the state action but discussions continue with the Neighbor Islands, where the infections are considerably lower, and where a blended schedule is still planned.

Regarding the Hawaii State Teachers Association request for better health guidance on when schools would close after a COVID-19 case, the governor says the state is following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The union has been demanding better guidelines from the state Department of Health, which has repeatedly said the CDC recommendations are sufficient.

During the first week of school, Aug. 17-Aug. 20, students wil need to physically return to campus for training on distance learning platforms and to address any issues they have connecting online or having equipment for digital classes. Schools will give special attention to vulnerable students and their families who may need more in-person access to schools and teachers.

Oahu cafeterias will serve only grab-and-go meals, and in-person dining won't be allowed. After-school programs are being suspended until students return to a blended learning program.

From Aug. 24 to Sept. 11, the schools plan to teach classes entirely by distance learning. Special education services that can't be provided remotely will be made available in person. And students can have access to supervised in-person learning labs at schools if they don't have WiFi access at home.

Staring on Sept. 14, if an assessment by the schools, governor's office and state health department shows it is safe, the schools would shift to a blend of distance learning and in-person classes. But if all-distance learning needs to continue, the state would make an announcement on Sept. 8.

Kishimoto said there has been no mass increase in the number of teacher retirements over COVID-19 concerns. She said they are still trending at the same rate of 300 a year.

Teachers have been training in distance learning using teacher-created learning modules. She said substitute teachers are also being trained so they can step in and continue distance and blended teaching if a teacher becomes sick.

The state Board of Education would not need to approve the program for full distance learning, Kishimoto said, since it had already supported a "return to learn" plan that covers remote teaching.

Ige says he is discussing any change in announced plans covering the University of Hawaii with President David Lassner and the UH Board of Regents. The UH had announced its reopening plans in July, that includes how out-of-state students will udndergo a modified travel quarantine program. 

He also appealed to employers to provide flexibility to working parents who will need to juggle jobs and child care during distance learning.

2 more deaths, new cases still surging

The state Department of Health today reported another two deaths and 201 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state fatality total to 31. It is the second day of two deaths. Today's reported fatalities were both Oahu men with underlying health conditions.

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

“Their passings are a stark reminder of the realities today," said Health Director Bruce Anderson. "Unfortunately, we are going to see more and more casualties as the surge of cases over the last few weeks continues and, sadly, more and more families and neighborhoods will experience the loss of loved ones.”  

With today's cases, the state's total case count has crossed the 3,000 mark and stands now at 3,115. Out of that total, 2,741 cases are on Oahu, 181 in Maui County, 123 in Hawaii County, and 47 in Kauai County. There have been 23 residents diagnosed outside of the state, 231 people hospitalized and 31 deaths.

The recent surge in cases and rising death toll -- along with the threat of an overwhelmed hospital system -- prompted Gov. David Ige to restore the interisland quarantine and Mayor Kirk Caldwell to close down beaches and parks, among other steps, to try and bring the spreading infections under control on Oahu.

Yesterday, there were 152 new cases and two deaths. One of the deaths is an elderly female with underlying medical conditions. She had been a resident at a Pearl City nursing home and was hospitalized.

The other death is an elderly man, also described as having health issues, who was in a hospital when he died. 

"The passing of this man really demonstrates how rapidly and invisibly COVID-19 is spreading through our communities, particularly on O‘ahu and particularly associated with clusters. A close contact of this individual attended a spin class at a gym taught by a person linked to the Hawaiian Airlines cluster," state Epidemiologist Sarah Park said.

On Wednesday, 173 new COVID-19 cases were tallied. All cases are on Oahu and reflect another triple-digit day of new infections.

On Tuesday, the department reported the 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. 

Earlier this week, the health department reported several clusters, including 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. 

The rising case numbers are a factor in ongoing debates about whether to delay both the scheduled start of public schools on Aug. 17 and the reopening of trans-Pacific travel beginning on Sept. 1 to those who test negative.

Among the new cases and developments:

• An employee with the City Council support staff tested positive, according to a council news release yesterday. Council Chair Ikaika Anderson arranged for free testing of employees who work at Honolulu Hale. The affected employee is in isolation and was last at work about six days ago.

• Another Honolulu Board of Water Supply employee tested positive, bringing to three the number of workers infected by COVID-19. It has been about six days since the worker was in contact with staff or customers, said BWS Manager Ernest Lau.

• The South Kohala District Court, which has been closed since August 4 after an employee tested positive for COVID-19, will reopen on August 18. Family Court cases scheduled for August 10, 12, 14, and 17 will be heard as scheduled, but will be moved to the Keahuolu Courthouse Courtroom 2B in Kona. All District Court cases scheduled for August 4 to 17 will be rescheduled. Parties in these cases will be notified by mail of their new court date, the court said. 

Interisland quarantine restored, Oahu closes beaches, parks

Starting Tuesday, the 14-day mandatory quarantine for interisland travel will be reinstated, Gov. David Ige announced yesterday. Restrictions on Oahu also will return, including closure of city and state parks, beaches, trails and campgrounds starting tonight at midnight and extending to Sept. 4.

Ige initially said at a press conference that the interisland travel quarantine would affect all islands, but after discussions with state Attorney General Clare Connors, the governor limited the reach of his order to travelers arriving on Maui, Kauai, Hawaii Island and Kalawao counties. The quarantine is set to expire at the end of the month, but could be extended.

The rollbacks follow successive days of triple-digit counts of new COVID-19 cases, most of them on Oahu. Healthcare leaders warned that unless the case counts are brought under control, hospitals would be overwhelmed by coronavirus cases in a month.

"I know that many of you will be disappointed to hear this news. Interisland travel was an important way for families to keep in touch," Ige said. "I wish this was not necessary, but the health and safety of our community remains our highest priority. For those planning interisland trips, please look for updates on the airport websites."

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino earlier this week asked the governor for a second time to reinstate the interisland quarantine to help prevent infections on Oahu from spreading to the neighbor islands. The state had first imposed the quarantine on April 1 but it was lifted on June 16 as the reopening got underway.

"We appreciate the Governor for following our request and making the difficult decision to reinstate the mandatory 14-day quarantine for interisland travelers," Victorino said in a statement yesterday. "As cases continue to rise exponentially on Oahu, bold actions need to be taken to protect our communities on the Neighbor Islands."

Oahu's restrictions under Caldwell's "Act With Care – Do Not Gather" order will allow gyms to operate, but without exercise classes, and restaurants can remain open. However, cooks will need to wear face masks.

Team sports in parks will be suspended through Sept. 5 and all bowling alleys, arcades and mini-golf locations will be closed.

Those who swim, surf, fish and otherwise use the ocean for permitted activities can cross the parks to get to the water under the mayor's order, but then need to leave after they are done.

Honolulu police will scale up to enforce the order, said Police Chief Susan Ballard.

"We also have created a COVID enforcement team that will be responding to complaints, as well as proactive patrols, especially where we see large gatherings," she said. "There will be in addition to regular patrol and our other regular officers who are out on the road, there will be an additional 160 officers islandwide, seven days a week and all of our eight districts doing strategic enforcement.

 

"So with all this enforcement going on, and we've tried to warn people, educate people, and at this point, we're probably going to do very few warnings. It's going to be either citations or arrest."

HPD will create an enforcement hotline starting on Sunday for COVID-related complaints. The hotline number is 723-3900.

--HPR's Ashley Mizuo and Casey Harlow

 

Missed mail deadline? Ballot drop boxes, voter centers available

It’s too late to mail your primary election ballot – but you can still submit it at a county drop box or visit a voter service center.

Election officials have placed drop boxes throughout the state – so residents can turn in their ballots at the last minute.

County officials have also set up voter service centers where residents can drop off their ballots or vote in person. 

Maui County Clerk Kathy Kaohu advises residents not to mail in their ballots at this time.

She says for a vote to count – the ballot must be in the hands of county officials by 7 p.m. on Saturday.

"Postmarks will not work, and we’re encouraging voters not to use the post offices or mailboxes – just to be certain," she said. "We are processing our mail on island, and in our county. That is a little more certainty that our ballots are staying on island, and we’ll be able to get them in our mail pickups. But just to be for sure certain, I would recommend a voter service center or drop box."

Information on where to find a drop box or voter service center can be found online on the state elections website.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

Attorney general special agents arrest resident in quarantine violation case 

Mark Alan Cooper, 49, of Mililani was arrested Wednesday by special agents of the Attorney’s General Investigations Division for alleged violation of the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine.

 

Agents say Cooper returned to Honolulu on July 27 and was spotted at a post office by an acquaintance who reported him to the citizens group, Hawaiʻi Quarantine Kapu Breakers, which notified authorities.

 

He was arrested outside his residence, booked, charged, and has bail of $2,000.  

 

2,910 passengers arrive on Wednesday  

 

The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported a total of 2,910 people arrived in Hawaii Wednesday, including 716 visitors and 939 returning residents. The numbers for both groups continue to rise despite the 14-day mandatory travel quarantine for all arriving passengers.

 

Others arriving included 287 crew members, 207 transiting travelers, 202 military members, 239 passengers exempt from quarantine, and 320 travelers who say 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.