Updated: 7/28/2020, 2:50 p.m.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is seeking approval from Gov. David Ige to shut down bars for three weeks. He's also asking to restore restrictions on how many can gather together and to tighten face covering rules so that they must be worn at all times when out in public, except when there is a health issue.
The mayor's request, announced today, comes as the state Department of Health reports another 47 new COVID-19 cases, 46 on Oahu and 1 on Maui. Forty-one of the new cases are adult and six are children. Thus far, eight of the cases are tied to community spread and two are associated with travel.
Today's new case count is up after a decline yesterday due to the impact of Hurricane Douglas on lab activity. Until yesterday, the state had been seeing a string of record-setting days. On Friday, the state reported 60 new cases, followed by a record 73 on Saturday, and 64 on Sunday. There were 28 cases yesterday.
Health officials say the recent surge in cases is threatening the state's reopening and is a factor in the debate over the scheduled Aug. 4 restart of public schools.
There are also calls to reinstate restrictions that had been imposed when new cases were even lower than they are now. Maui Mayor Michael Victorino has called for the interisland travel quarantine to be restored and Caldwell has increasingly tightened the requirements and enforcement of safety measures on bars and cabarets.
Health investigators have been looking into clusters of COVID-19 cases at two Honolulu bars, Brix and Bone located at 1217 Hopaka St. or Arena 808 at 1020 Keeaumoku St.
At a press conference today, Caldwell said the three-week closure of bars would not only prevent possible spread of the virus but give the city time to plan better enforcement of the city's safety mandates.
He has also asked to reduce large gatherings to 10 or fewer people and to require face coverings when out in the public whether people are indoors or outdoors, unless they have medical problems.
State and county officials have continually urged residents to socially distance, wear face masks, maintain good hygiene and not go to work if sick.
The state total number of COVID-19 cases now stands at 1,747 cases. Out of that total, 1,419 are cases on Oahu, 153 in Maui County, 116 in Hawaii County, and 45 in Kauai County. One case was dropped from Hawaii County's count based on updated information.
There were 23 residents diagnosed outside of the state. One-hundred sixty-seven people have been hospitalized, 1,205 released from isolation and 26 deaths.
DOE agrees to ask for two-week delay in school reopening
The state Department of Education and the public worker unions have reached a conditional agreement to postpone school reopening until August 17.
The public schools were scheduled to resume on August 4th, but with strong push back from unions for teachers, principals, custodians and cafeteria workers.
In a joint-statement the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the United Public Workers called for more guidance from the state health and education departments. The unions also want wants more time for workers to implement safety precautions.
The unions also wanted masks mandated by all people on school campuses. The current agreement allows for teachers to decide if masks need to be worn in class.HSTA President Corey Rosenlee emphasized need for written guidance from the DOH before schools can reopen."The Department of Health has still not given us guidance of what should happen in case there is an illness at the school or if someone gets sick. We need guidance about how many cases it needs to occur before we close down a school or close on the school system. And that's something that we're still hoping to get from the Department of Health and that should absolutely occur before students return on campus." Health Director Bruce Anderson said schools should look to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for guidance. But he’s also said that schools should not reopen if they feel unprepared.
Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said in a statement that the extra time will be used to prepare to welcome students back on campus.
The Board of Education will vote on Thursday to postpone the start of the academic year for public school students.
At least three board members voiced their support for a delay at the last BOE meeting.
But the board will also have to approve reducing the 180-day school year, as mandated by law.
--HPR's Ashley Mizuo
In shift, DOH names bars with COVID-19 cases
The state Department of Health yesterday released the names of two bars that have confirmed clusters of COVID-19 cases.
It’s an unusual move by the department, which usually tries to keep the names of impacted businesses private.
The health department called on the public to report if, between July 16 to July 26, they had been to either of two Honolulu bars: Brix and Bone located at 1217 Hopaka St. or Arena 808 at 1020 Keeaumoku St.
The department has confirmed at least five cases of COVID-19 between the two establishments and is monitoring as many as seven additional people.
Health Director Bruce Anderson says the department did not think it would be possible to keep the bars’ names anonymous and still effectively contract trace those who were exposed.
"Normally we would want to keep the name of the restaurant or bar confidential, particularly if we are comfortable that we would know who was there, who may have been contacted or where there may have been exposures," Anderson said.
"In this case, we found inconsistencies in what we were told by the cases. And we were not comfortable we were able to identify all the potential people exposed. People appreciate our keeping information confidential -- they tend to be far more cooperative if we are. And they know that, if we don't get the information that we need, we are going to publicize the name of the establishment."
Anderson says there were inconsistent reports about the wearing of masks, physical distancing and, and other safety practices at the bars. He said in these cases, the department felt it was in the public’s interest to name them.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said last week that the DOH was investigating a COVID-19 cluster at a bar, the first that he had heard of. The unnamed bar had been the location of a gathering for a UFC fight. He said no one was wearing face coverings, which is required under a city emergency order, and that bouncers, patrons and bartenders had tested positive.
The city has reduced hours and ramped up enforcement of bars and cabarets under its COVID-19 order that aims to reduce the spread of the virus.
Honolulu Liquor Commission investigators temporarily closed two bars this month for reported violations of social distancing, face coverings and other requirements under the emergency order and commission rules.
Greg Maples with the Hawaii Restaurant Association says it’s important to distinguish between businesses that comply with safety guidelines and those that don’t.
"It's alleged that they, you know, there wasn't social distancing, masks or whatever. But this way they can trace them by putting [out] those names. I don't think we have a problem with that," he said. "The key is to differentiate when that happens between a single employee like getting it versus this has caused a cluster."
He says a small restaurant exposed as a place with a positive COVID case, and already fragile as a business, could be greatly harmed.
DOH was monitoring about 650 people over the weekend who were close contacts of those with COVID.
The department now defines a "close contact" as someone who has spent over 20 minutes with a positive case.
--HPR's Ashley Mizuo
Japan weighing reopening travel to select destinations, including Hawaii
Japan is considering reopening international travel in stages -- with Hawaii and other named destinations among the locations under consideration.
Hawaii is the only state in the United States mentioned by the Japan government as one where safe travel could resume, according to Gov. David Ige.
Japan is first considering discussions on resuming travel with 12 Asia destinations, including China, South Korea and Taiwan. Europe and Hawaii would follow in the second stage.
Ige says there is no timetable for when travel could begin between the state and Japan. But he said the state was honored that Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Able and other policymakers are considering Hawaii as it plans restarting international travel.
House Speaker Scott Saiki, who chairs the Japan Hawaii Legislators Friendship Association, helped put Hawaii on the Japan government’s list for consideration.
Saiki said he's confident in the state’s ability to handle more tourists.
“The travel industry partners who focus on Japan tourists are all prepared to accept Japan visitors and to ensure that their health and safety protocols are met," he said. "We have hotels that cater to Japanese tourists that are prepared to implement health protocols. We have medical clinics in Waikiki that deal exclusively with Japan visitors. So there are a number of areas were Japan partners are more prepared for Japan tourists.”
Saiki says thermal screenings at the Hawaii airports and more contact tracers will help to ensure safe travel.
The House speaker said he hopes that once travel between Japan and Hawaii gets underway, it will show residents that the state can safely reopen to tourism.
--HPR's Amy Nakamura
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.