Updated: 8/28/2020, 12:15 p.m.
Where we stand
Hawaii Department of Health today reported four more deaths and 265 new cases. The latest case count brings the state's total to 7,830 and deaths to 59.
Total cases stand at 7,147 on Oahu, 324 in Maui County, 279 on Hawaii Island and 56 on Kauai.
There were also four deaths yesterday. Three Oahu women and one Oahu man died. All had been hospitalized with underlying medical conditions. Two of the women were 70 to 79 years old; the other woman and tge man are 80 years or older.
Yesterday's positvity rate reached 12%, meaning of 2,478 tests given, 12% were positive. That amount of infection sets the state solidly in the red zone by federal definitions.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell has said he would like to see daily case counts drop to the 25 to 50 after his latest stay-at-home, work from home order runs for two weeks. This is the second time the city has imposed a lockdown.
Among the latest cases:
• Nine more Oahu Community Correctional Center inmates and 1 OCCC staff member have tested positive for COVID-19. This brings the total number of OCCC inmates testing positive to 253 and to 52 for staff.
• Two Hawaii Department of Education employees providing educational services at the Kapolei Juvenile Detention Facility (also known as Hale Ho‘omalu Juvenile Detention Facility) have tested positive for COVID-19, the DOE said in a news release. The test result for a third employee is pending. The cases follow the positive cases of a juvenile and two state Judiciary employees at the same facility. DOE said potential close contacts have been notified and placed on leave; affected areas have been cleaned and disinfected. “We are publicly reporting these cases due to the fact that for the first time there is more than one case — not within the same household — at a HIDOE work site and involves students residing at the location,” Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto said.
• A state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs employee tested positive for COVID-19. The employee who works at the Leiopapa A. Kamehameha building on South Beretania Street received the test results on Wednesday. The employee last worked in an 8th floor office on Aug. 16. On learning of the positive test, the Office of Consumer Protection notified staff not to report to the office. it was closed yesterday and will remain closed today. The office staff will telework and respond to public calls and email during regular business hours.
• The Bank of Hawaii reported an employee at its Iwilei branch tested positive for COVID-19. The employee last worked on Friday, Aug. 21, and typically works from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. The bank became aware of the test result yesterday. The employee did not have close contact with customers or other employees, according to the bank. The branch was professionally sanitized on Tuesday after the bank was told of a potential case. The branch remains open during regular business hours.
Officials plan to close H-3 for COVID-19 testing
On Tuesday, Sept. 1, and Thursday, Sept. 3, the city and state plan to close H-3 Freeway between the Halawa Interchange and the Halekou Interchange for COVID-19 testing, if the federal government approves.
The H-3 closure would run from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on both days. The inside lanes of the H-3 at the Harano Tunnels will be used to queue up vehicles of those waiting to get tested.
The outer lane will serve as access for emergency vehicles. Test stations will be set up on both the Kaneohe and Halawa sides of the tunnel, serving both north- and south-bound directions.
"Testing on the H-3 is a historic, first ever endeavor that will make a significant difference in getting more people tested," said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell in a statement.
Those who use the H-3 are advised to use Likelike Highway or the Pali Highway as alternative routes during the closure.
Auditor: DOH failed to answer contact tracing questions
The state auditor’s office says it tried to examine the Hawaii health department’s COVID-19 contact tracing program. But the DOH refused to turn over critical information.
Numerous news reports -- including by HPR -- exposed the desperate state of the health department’s contact tracing program earlier this month.
Overwhelmed contract tracers were handling more cases than they could manage and many testing positive were not contacted.
Now state Auditor Leslie Kondo has issued a report saying he asked DOH for specific information about its contact tracing effort -- including on department policies, procedures and implementation.
But Kondo says Health Director Bruce Anderson referred the auditor’s questions to other DOH staff -- and then they were not made available to provide answers.
The report says the health department provided no data on the average time it takes to reach COVID-infected people and their close contacts, the auditor said.
Lacking cooperation from DOH, the auditor largely relied on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to explain in the report how contact tracing is supposed to work.
Kondo called for the health department to be more accountable and transparent to the public.
The state Department of Health could not be reached for comment.
Audits of this type are usually approved by the state Legislature. Such wasn’t the case with this particular report. Kondo said criticism of the contact tracing program by Lt. Gov. Josh Green among others prompted the audit.
Following disclosures of the health department’s contacting tracing failures, Gov. David Ige appointed Dr. Emily Roberson to take over the program from state Epidemiologist Sarah Park.
Roberson has made changes: there are more contact tracers and the Hawaii Convention Center has been set up to house new workers.
Still, the state’s 106 contact tracers and 28 National Guard volunteers continue to fall short of the number that national experts say is needed, which is between 350 and 450.
--HPR's Ashley Mizuo
HSTA wants distance learning for all students, telework teachers
The state teachers union applauded the Department of Education’s decision to keep to distance learning for most students through the quarter that ends on October 2nd.
But Corey Rosenlee, president of Hawaii State Teachers Association, says thousands of teachers and students are still required to go to campus for different reasons -- and risk exposure to COVID-19.
“HSTA is close tracking close to 30 campuses since the end of July, where there's been at least one COVID case on campus," he said. "At one school, Ka Umeke [Kaeo], a Hawaiian-focused charter school on the Big Island, eight staff came down with the COVID virus. That is why HSTA has been advocating that it should be a 100% distance learning for all students across the state. And there our teachers should have the option of being able to telework.”
The union also wants to know what will happen in the second quarter with distance learning and in-person instruction.
The DOE says complex area superintendents and school principles will be developing transition plans for the second quarter, taking into account community-specific needs.
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 email@example.com.