Updated 12/23/20, 3:35 p.m.
Governor David Ige announced Wednesday afternoon that there will be a delay in state furloughs, that were set to begin on January 1, 2021.
In a letter sent to state employees, Ige said the state had been waiting to see if Congress would pass additional federal support to address the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts.
On Monday night, Congress passed a $900 billion relief package and is awaiting approval from President Donald Trump. While the package doesn't directly support state and local governments, it does provide mitigation measures that the state would have had to pay for -- such as vaccine distribution, testing, and education.
According to state officials, Ige decided to delay the implementation of the furloughs based on the promise of federal aid. However, he noted that there is still uncertainty, and there is no timeline of when the furloughs will begin.
"I know the uncertainty makes things difficult for you and your families," Ige wrote. "We are continuing to monitor the latest information and will provide an update as soon as we can."
Lt. Governor Josh Green first elected official to be vaccinated
Lt. Governor Josh Green became the first elected official in the state to receive a COVID-19 vaccination on Tuesday. He received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at Queen's Medical Center.
As an emergency room physician, Green is categorized as a healthcare worker in Phase 1a of the state's distribution plan. He will receive the second vaccine dose in mid-January.
"As a healthcare worker, it was my turn to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and I felt it was important to lead by example," Green said. "I want to show the people of Hawaiʻi that both the currently available vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, are effective and safe and that I was willing to take it myself."
Green was diagnosed with COVID-19 in September, and has recovered after experiencing mild-to-moderate symptoms.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says individuals who have recovered from the coronavirus should receive the vaccine about 90 days following recovery.
First responders and medical professionals throughout the state also took the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday.
Where we stand
The state Department of Health reported 107 new cases, and 3 fatalities on Wednesday.
According to the state's numbers, Oʻahu had 68 new cases, Maui 14, Hawaiʻi County 13, Kauaʻi, Lanai and Molokaʻi had none.
The latest state counts bring the Oʻahu total to 17,277, Hawaiʻi County 1,835, Maui 806, Kauaʻi 138, Lanai 106, and Molokaʻi 22. The number of out-of-state cases total 338.
Since the pandemic began, the state has tallied 20,522 cases. The death toll stands at 285.
Proposed Kapolei casino advances
The Hawaiian Homes Commission has moved one step closer to planning a casino resort in Kapolei. The commission approved a draft bill to lease trust lands for a casino by the slim margin of 5 to 4.
Chairman William Aila and other supporters say the measure would address the "dire financial state" of the Department of Hawaiian Homelands.
The bill will now go to Governor David Ige for consideration. If approved, it would go into the governor's package for proposed legislation for the upcoming session.
Backers say that if it is rejected, they will seek legislative sponsors.
Among other steps, the bill would create a Hawaii Gaming Commission and State Gaming Fund. But for the project to move forward, a change in state law would be required.
Rail project gets federal deadline extension
Honolulu's rail project will have until the end of 2021 to spend $250 million in federal funds. In a press release, Senator Brian Schatz says he has secured the deadline extension under the latest federal COVID-19 relief package.
The federal funds were originally set to expire at the end of this month.
Schatz says the extension gives HART and the City time, but they need to revise their financial plan and "come back with something that can actually work."
Mayor Kirk Caldwell and HART CEO Andrew Robbins requested an extension, after the City pulled out of a public-private partnership that would have completed the last 4.2 miles of the project.
Caldwell said the announcement is welcome news during a news conference Tuesday morning. But noted that the extension isn't a done deal.
"I don't want to count our chickens before they hatch, because President Trump has to sign the bill into law," Caldwell said.
Caldwell says when the bill is passed, it will give the new administration time to come up with a plan to complete the project to Ala Moana.