The Latest: 7 Deaths, 133 Cases; Health, DPS Directors Leaving; 2 Big Isle Deaths, Cases Mount

Aug 31, 2020

Updated: 8/31/2020, 1:35 p.m.

Where we stand

Hawaii had its deadliest day today with 7 deaths reported by the state Department of Health. New cases totaled 133. The latest numbers bring the death toll to 70 and total number of cases to 8,472. 

Yesterday's statewide count included 1 death and 200 new cases, according to the Hawaii Department of Health. On Saturday, the health department reported three deaths and 310 new COVID-19 cases, among the highest daily case counts since the pandemic began. 

Green said yesterday's daily positivity rate dropped to 7.2%, which he called a good sign. The state had been running at about a 10% positivity rate, the percentage of people who test positive, placing it in the red zone by federal measures. 

State and city officials hope the stay-at-home order in effect for Oahu will work to lower the surge in new daily cases that have been running in the triple digits for most of August. 

Among the latest cases:

• Another 3 inmates and one 1 staffer at the Oahu Community Correctional Center have tested positive for COVID-19, the state Department of Public Safety said in a news release yesterday. The latest numbers bring the total number of inmates who have tested positive at OCCC to 289. A total of 58 staff have tested positive. Meanwhile, another 25 inmates have been released under the Hawaii Supreme Court's order aimed at reducing overcrowding at correctional centers during the pandemic.

• A Bank of Hawaii Moiliili branch employee tested positive for the coronavirus. The bank said it became aware of the test result on Friday evening. The employee last worked on Friday, Aug. 21, and had no close contact with customers. Any employees who had close contact with the affected worker will be tested and asked to self-quarantine, the bank said in a news release. The branch was professionally cleaned on Saturday and will open during regular business hours.

 

The state directors of health and public safety, both of whom have come under harsh criticism for the surge in COVID-19 cases under their watch, are retiring in September, Gov. David Ige announced today. 

 

"Both directors have served admirably under extremely challenging conditions, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic," Ige said in a statement. "I thank them for their many years of service to the people of Hawai'i and wish them well as they retire and are able to spend time with their families.

Ige has appointed Dr. Libby Char as interim director of health effective Sept. 16. Anderson retires on Sept. 15 after 35 years managing health and and environmental programs in the state.

Espinda's retirement takes effect Oct. 1. Ige said Maria Cook, deputy director for administration for public safety, has been temporarily assigned to head the department while Espinda is on personal leave through September. She has signing authority during that time.

The governor plans to announce an interim appointment in coming weeks.

2 deaths, increasing cases on Big Island

Two residents at a state veterans home in Hilo have died, the first deaths from COVID-19 on the Big Island. Hawaii Island has outpaced Maui County in the number of their coronavirus cases. The Big Island now has 340 cases compared to Maui County's 334 cases. The largest numbers remain on Oahu, where a stay-at-home order is still in effect and surge testing continues.

The two people who died were residents at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo and had significant underlying health issues, according to the Hilo Medical Center.

In an update yesterday on its Facebook page, the hospital said there have been 27 residents and 10 employees who have tested positive at the veterans home. Six are hospitalized at the medical center and 19 are being treated in the veteran home's COVID-designated area.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said on Saturday in his daily Instagram video that he's concerned about the Big Island cases. He said there are 24 intensive care unit beds on the island, 17 of which are occupied, a couple with COVID patients.

Hilo Medical Center said three COVID patients are in its ICU unit and 15 in its COVID unit. 

 

Official federal OK pending, but state moving ahead with H-3 surge testing

Formal federal approval of the H-3 surge testing event this week is still pending, but the state Department of Transportation is proceeding forward.

The Federal Highway Administration supports the effort, said department spokesman Tim Sakahara by email. "We have not received formal approvals yet and we continue to work with them on an expedited process. We are moving forward with the first testing date of Sept. 1," he said.

The Honolulu Fire Department has issued further instructions for those planning to attend the surge COVID-19 testing scheduled on the H-3 Freeway tomorrow and Thursday.

The freeway will be closed from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. on both days and those who drive the trans-Koolau route will need to take Likelike Highway or the Pali Highway.

Those coming from Kaneohe for the surge testing must enter H-3 from Kamehameha Highway since the Likelike Highway on-ramp will be closed.

Drivers from Honolulu can enter H-3 from the H-1 Freeway or Moanalua Freeway where the Honolulu Police Department will direct participants to an open test station.

HFD also advises participants to:

• Pre-register at doineedacovid19test.com, print the voucher and bring it along to the test site. However, people will be taken on a first-come, first-served basis.

• Carpool if possible, with family members only.

• Prepare for long lines and wait times.

• Weather will be hot and humid.

• Bring water, snacks and stay hydrated.

The state Department of Transportation will provide portable potties at the test site every mile of the freeway. But drivers and passengers will need to provide their own hand sanitizers and wipes since there will be no sinks for handwashing.

The surge testing sites scheduled for today: 

• Walk-in only locations: Kapiolani Park at 3840 Paki Avenue on the bandstand side and Mililani District Park, 94-1150 Lanikuhana Ave.

 • Drive-through only location: UH West Oahu, 91-1001 Farrington Highway.

HFD said if you registered at http://doineedacovid19test.com but weren’t able to get tested, do not re-register. If you have a printed voucher, take it to any site, and you will get tested. Test sites will remain open until 2 p.m.

Extending stay-at-home order still on the table

Mayor Kirk Caldwell says extending Oahu’s two-week shutdown is not out of the question.

Honolulu’s second “stay at home, work from home” order took effect last Thursday and runs to Sept. 10. The order has shut down non-essential businesses and is largely keeping residents at home.

Caldwell hopes COVID-19 cases will decline by the end of the two weeks. 

"If it does not result in the results that we need to see, then perhaps we look at an extension of this order. I would not go another two weeks, but I might extend another week and see," he said.

"Because every week is a lot of pain on everybody. They’re in fatigue. I mean, like I said, it is a war. Like any war, it goes on many years and people do get fatigued. But you also got to see where the end is, and knowing that we’re winning this war. And as long as you show we’re winning, people are willing to do more for the cause. And right now, it’s about showing those positive results that I think we’re going to see."

Caldwell says he’s also considering scheduled one-day shutdowns. The aim would be to tap the brakes and slow down the virus.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

Hotel rooms available for those who can't isolate at home 

Places where people can isolate if they can't at home because of COVID-19 are coming on line.

 

That's according to testimony Friday before the state House Human Services and Homeless Committee. 

 

Edward Mersereau, state Department of Health behavioral health deputy director, says officials are very concerned that the healthcare system is becoming overwhelmed. 

 

 

"The hospitals are reaching a very critical threshold. We're working very hard to support that with getting folks out," Mersereau said. "In talking with the City and County, we're looking at least getting another 250 units online in the next several days, which would bring us up to 550 or more units. That may not ultimately be enough, but I think that's a good start for us." 

 

O'ahu's ongoing surge testing is expected to fuel a jump in positive test results. Since crowded, multi-generational homes can increase the risk of contracting COVID, DOH is using at least four hotels in Waikiki for those who need to isolate.

 

Arrangements for isolation facilities on the Neighbor Islands are also underway. Those who need help to isolate can call a newly expanded CARES line at 832-3100 on O'ahu.

 

--HPR's Noe Tanigawa

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.