The Latest: 8th Hilo Veterans Home Death, Schatz Calls For Feds To Intervene; 1 Death, 105 Cases

Sep 7, 2020

Updated: 9/7/2020, 12:05 p.m.

The death toll at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home rose to eight today, a day after U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz called for immediate intervention by federal agencies and chastized the state and county for failing to act fast enough to control the outbreak at the Hilo nursing home.

Fifty-eight residents and 18 staff members at the veterans home have now tested positive for COVID-19, according to an update today from the Avalon Health Care Group that operates the facility.

Two of the residents are hospitalized at Hilo Medical Center and 34 are being cared for in the veterans home's COVID-19 unit. 

Avalon Health Care said it has been following federal, state and country protocols on infection control and prevention. Facility officials believe the virus entered the veterans home through an asymptomatic staff member who was exposed in the community. 

"We need to contain this outbreak immediately and we need federal help," said Schatz in a news release yesterday. "I'm calling on VA (Veterans Administration) to immediately step in and deploy infection control experts and other health care professionals to the Big Island to get this under control.

"This is a public health emergency, and we need all the help we can get to stop this outbreak and save lives."

Schatz has written to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and Gov. David Ige raising concerns about the handling of the outbreak. He called on the federal government to identify where the facility is falling short and how it can improve infection controls and use of PPE, and take other steps to protect the residents and staff.

Schatz said it is clear to him that the veterans home is understaffed and ill-equipped to control the outbreak by itself. "Moreover, I am concerned that the state and county have been too slow to respond to the crisis with the urgency that it demands, including with a request for more federal assistance."

HPR asked the state and county for comments on the senator's criticims but did not receive an immediate response from officials.

Where we stand

Hawaii recorded 1 more COVID-19 death today and 105 new cases, the state Department of Health reported. The latest counts bring the state death toll to 86 and the total number of cases to 9,959. 

There have now been 9,000 cases on Oahu, 517 on Hawaii Island, 358 for Maui County, and 58 on Kauai. One case for Honolulu was removed based on updated information. 

The surge in cases is stressing the capacity at hospitals statewide. A lack of sufficient numbers of health care personnel, especially nurses, remains a major concern.

State and city officials hope the stay-at-home order, in effect for Oahu until Sept. 9, will lower the number of new daily cases that have been running in the triple digits for most of August and now into September. There has been no word on whether the order will be extended.

Surge testing continues at various Oahu locations through Labor Day. Participants can walk-up or register at doineedacovid19test.com. See the website for details on where and when the testing sites are scheduled.

Neighbor Island Census response rate trailing Oahu

Neighbor Island counties will need to step it up if they hope to match the national average in responding to the 2020 Census.

Kauai and Maui counties have each posted a response rate of just over 50 percent. Hawaii County trails with a 48 percent response rate.

Oahu -- at 67 percent -- has exceeded the national average, which is about 61 percent.

“Hundreds of billions of dollars go back to local communities in the form of federal funds," said Donald Bendz, a Census Bureau spokesman. "And those monies are determined by census data. So we want to make sure that people understand that we need to get a complete and accurate count of those communities so that when the governor or local cities and islands make requests for funding, they'll have the data to get the funding their fair share of that federal funding.”

There are three ways to make sure you’re counted. You can use the phone, participate by mail or go online to 2020census.gov.

Residents have only to the end of September to take part in the count. And it’s required by law.