The Latest: 80 New Cases, Four New Deaths; Future Of State Travel Program Being Discussed

Dec 9, 2020

Updated 12/9/20, 11:50 a.m.

State and county leaders are discussing the future of Hawaiʻi's safe travels program as the New Year approaches. Several officials are discussing changes to improve the program.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell during a Tuesday morning press conference said he would not only like to see exemptions tightened, but also allow travelers without a result to test out of quarantine.

A joint House committee briefing also discussed testing requirements for the state's Safe Travels program. And whether returning residents should have more flexibility in testing out of a quarantine.

Attorney General Clare Connors says that can present legal issues.

"We want to make sure our policies apply to all travelers, so that it is consistent -- we're not discriminating one over the other," Connors said.

Connors pointed out that the Centers for Disease Control seems to recognize residents may have a larger impact than travelers, due to the interaction within the community. And if that is the case, there could be a way for the state to change the program.

"Trust me when I say, we are discussing these things all the time -- on all these different levels of government," Connors said.

The Senate's COVID-19 committee will meet today to discuss the state's safe travels program.

-- HPR's Casey Harlow

Where we stand

The state Department of Health reported 80 new cases and four new fatalities today.

According to the state numbers, Oʻahu had 45 new cases, Maui 15, Hawaiʻi County 12, Kauaʻi 1, and Lanai and Molokaʻi had none.

One of Maui's new cases is a Lanai resident, who was exposed on Maui. The DOH reports that individual will remain in Maui for the time being.

The latest state counts bring the Oʻahu total to 15,924, Hawaiʻi County, 1,664, Maui 633, Kauaʻi 121, Lanai 106 and Molokaʻi 22. The number of out-of-state cases totals 271.

Since the pandemic began, the state has tallied 18,6741 cases. The death toll stands at 266.

Hawaiian Airlines expands service

While many state officials are focusing on adjustments to Hawaii’s “Safe Travels” program, one airline is moving ahead with new routes.

Hawaiian Airlines has announced it is adding direct flights to three mainland locations—starting in March.

The first addition will be twice weekly direct flights to Orlando, Florida—the airline’s third destination on the east coast following New York and Boston.

About a week later, Hawaiian will add flights five times a week to Ontario, California—followed by twice-weekly service to Austin, Texas starting in April.

The airline says ticket sales have already started for all three destinations.

-- HPR's Bill Dorman

DOE offering help for student housing

Hawaiʻi's public school students will start their winter break December 21. For some students, the break will mean added food insecurity along with the change in routine.

At the end of May 2020, the Department of Education found nearly 3,600 students across the state were in unstable housing situations -- and 295 children were listed as unsheltered.

"Immediate enrollment is the main idea here," said Toby Portner, state coordinator for homeless children and youth at the DOE.

She says unstable housing is extremely disruptive for students, and can come in different forms -- including families simply doubling up. Portner calls this an almost unseen category of housing that can influence a child's stability and attendance.

"In the state, 70% of the kids we count are doubled up," she said. "This is pretty consistent year to year. You see that the main focus of our work is trying to address the needs of that group."

Last year, the DOE found more than 2,500 students across the state were "living with another family."

Portner says the DOE can assist with housing stability.

"We are able to help kids and families in this situation. We're able to put supports into place before they actually lose their 'doubled up' status. We're just trying to make sure we know who these kids are. And we're anticipating an increase."

Families with children in unstable housing can contact Student Support Services at the DOE.

-- HPR's Noe Tanigawa