The Latest: Green Gives Pre-Travel Test Update; 3 Deaths, 108 Cases; Suit Filed By Sons Of Veteran

Oct 1, 2020

Updated: 10/1/2020, 1:23 p.m. Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green pushed back today on the idea of a second or third test for tourists who are hoping to avoid quarantine when they visit Hawaii through the state's COVID-19 pre-travel testing program.

Starting Oct. 15, tourists who show a negative test within 72 hours of their Hawaii flight can avoid the two-week quarantine requirement.

At a Hawaii Convention Center press conference, Green said the pre-tests provide a layer of safety that the islands don't have right now. As many as 3,000 tourists are arriving each day despite the 14-day quarantine requirement.

But when the pre-testing program launches, an estimated 5,000 to 8,000 tourists are expected daily in the initial days, and Hawaii does not have the testing capacity to provide a subsequent test, Green said. 

He said he expects, despite precautions, that one in 1,000 visitors will have COVID-19, reminding residents that the program won't be perfect. He argued that while a low percentage of people will be positive and a low percentage will cheat the system, travel will be safe with preventative measures.

Children under 5 won't need to take a test, he announced, a change in previously announced information on the program.

The pre-test program that Green is leading has come under increasing criticism, including from county and state lawmakers who say it isn't safe enough.

"I will say that we're going to watch for increases very carefully. If there is an increase, suddenly, we'll be able to adjust the policy. If there's suddenly a big concern, because we're also opening up schools at some point, we'll be careful," he said. 

Green reiterated the goal is to kick-start the local economy that has been devastated by the pandemic. He said seeing people in food lines is heart-breaking.

The challenge in preventing another surge in COVID cases will be when tourism industry workers and others return to their jobs and mingle, Green said. He said employees need to be careful, and continue to wear masks and socially distance themselves.

The visitors' pre-travel tests must meet certain reqiuirements. They must be a nucleic acid amplification tests ( NAAT) from a lab that is licensed and certified as a Clinical Laboratories Improvement Amendments (CLIA) laboratory. Mail-in tests, such as those offered by Hawaiian Airlines, will be allowed, a reversal from previous information.

"We have a program that will be safer. We've got a program that will be at the cost of the traveler," Green said, adding that he's optimistic that if there are problems, the state will reassess.

More information on the pre-travel program is available at hawaiicovid19.com.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Where we stand

The Hawaii Department of Health today reported three deaths from COVID-19 and 108 new cases. The latest statewide case count brought the total number of infections to 12,515 since the pandemic began. Deaths total 139. 

There have now been 11,296 cases on Oahu (102 new cases), 736 on Hawaii Island (6 new cases), 391 for Maui County (no new cases), and 59 on Kauai County (no new cases). Those diagnosed out of state stands at 33. Three cases from Honolulu were removed from the count due to updated information.

The seven-day average positivity rate nudged up to 3.1% statewide yesterday. The county rates ranged from 4.3% for Oahu, 1.1% for Hawai'i County, 0.4% for Kaua'i County and 0.2% for Maui County.

The two who died were from Oahu. One was a man with underlying conditions in his 20s, among the youngest of those who died from COVID-19 in the state. He had been hospitalized. The other was a woman in her 70s with underlying conditions who died in a hospital.

Wrongful death suit filed against Avalon after fatality at veterans home

The family of a decorated Vietnam veteran who died at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home has filed a wrongful death suit against the operator of the nursing facility where 27 residents have died from COVID-19.

Attorney Jeffrey Foster filed the suit in Third Circuit Court in Hilo on behalf of two sons of Chris Drayer, a 70-year-old veteran who passed away from COVID on Sept. 2 at the veterans home. 

The suit names Utah-based Avalon Healh Care and four affiliated companies, alleging that Drayer died due to Avalon's substandard care and lack of health safety practices.

Avalon has operated the nursing home under contract for the state since it opened in 2007. It recently was replaced by the East Hawaii Region of the Hawaii Health Systems Corp., the semi-independent agency that oversees state's public hospitals.

Avalon's ouster followed highly critical assessments on the nursing home's outbreak by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. Both detailed serious deficiencies in infection control and patient management that contributed to the expanding cases at the facility. 

The lawsuit doesn't specifically name the state of Hawaii but lists undesignated government entities among the defendants.

"We will exhaust every resource to deliver the answers and justice sought by our clients," Foster said in a news release. The veterans who died "appear to have been victims of Avalon’s gross mismanagement and we intend to hold the Avalon entities legally accountable.”

Asked for comment, Avalon spokeswoman Allison Griffiths issued this statement: "“The health and safety of our residents is always our top priority. While I cannot comment on individual cases due to privacy laws, we mourn every life that has been lost to this historic pandemic as our heroic healthcare workers continue to fight to save lives.”

The death of the 27th resident of the veterans home from COVID was reported yesterday by the Hilo Medical Center. Over 100 residents and staff at the home have tested positive of COVID-19.

Governor asks for patience as rental aid applications are delayed

More than 14,000 Hawaii residents have applied for a new rent assistance program launched by the state last month.

Federal funds given to Hawaii under the CARES Act cover the $100 million Rent Relief and Housing Assistance Program.

 

But some applicants reached by HPR describe delays and technical problems with applying for help and some are not getting a response.

 

Gov. David Ige said yesterday that the state’s partners are working as fast as they can to distribute the funds while also watching out for fraud.

 

"We intend to release the funds as quickly as we can. We are also accountable to the federal government to make sure the funds are expended appropriately. We are liable for any misuse or misspent funds," he said. "It is a balancing act, we are moving as quickly as we can. We have built in mechanisms to be certain that those in need can get access to the funds and we are committed to moving the funds out as quickly as possible."

 

Two local non-profits -- the Aloha United Way and Catholic Charities -- are taking applications for the rental program. Applicants are asked to apply through one of the two, but not both.

 

More information is available at hihousinghelp.com

 --HPR's Ryan Finnerty
 

HSTA: DOH rules to reopen schools don't align with CDC

The state health department created guidelines to help schools decide if students should stop distance learning and return to campus. Their return hinges on the number of COVID-19 cases in the schools’ communities.

But the state teachers union says the rules don’t reflect the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hawaii State Teachers Association President Corey Rosenlee says CDC’s rules are more conservative and the state’s guidelines are unsafe.

"The rationale for the metrics is ill-defined. And this is putting our public school teachers and educators in jeopardy," Rosenlee said. "HSTA appreciates that the Board of Education will be addressing these metrics on Thursday. But we are concerned that the complex area superintendents across the state are already using these metrics to determine whether schools can be reopened or not."

Complex areas like Farrington, Kaiser and Kalani have notified parents that kindergarteners, 6th graders and high school seniors will return to campus when the second quarter starts Oct. 12.

On the other hand, the Kailua and Kalaheo complex areas plan to continue full distance learning for the second quarter.

A health department spokeswoman says the CDC’s rules came out after the department had developed its own guidelines. She said the department is reviewing the CDC guidance.

--HPR's Ashley Mizuo

State launches unemployment claims call center

After months of complaints about delays in processing unemployment benefits, the state yesterday announced the launch of a call center to help applicants with their claims.

The call center will be staffed with 200 operators who will answer questions about unemployment insurance, including benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.

Operators will take calls during state's normal business hours, 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. The phone lines used by the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations will be routed to the call center.

The local numbrers are 808-762-5751 and 808-762-5752. The toll-free numbers are: 833-901-2272 and 833-901-2275.

Maximum Inc., headquartered in Virginia, operates the call center. The state is working with the outsourcing company to add 100 adjudicators to its operations in an effort to reduce the backlog of claims. The adjudicators would provide more expertise and knowledge to the process, the state said.
 

Navatek CEO to appear in court today on fraud charges

Federal agents arrested a prominent Hawaiʻi defense contractor Wednesday on charges that he defrauded banks out of millions of dollars in coronavirus relief funds. 

Martin Kao, 47, CEO of Martin Defense Group, formerly known as Navatek, is set to appear in U.S. District Court today on two counts of bank fraud and five counts of money laundering. 

Kao is accused of fraudulently obtaining $12.8 million in Paycheck Protection Program or PPP funds meant to provide loans to struggling businesses under the federal CARES Act.  

According to the charges, Kao allegedly inflated the number of employees on a loan application seeking $10 million in PPP funds from Central Pacific Bank. 

U.S. District Attorney Kenji Price said it was one of two applications submitted by Kao.

“Roughly two weeks after Martin Kao submitted the allegedly fraudulent loan application to Central Pacific Bank, and three days after the bank deposited the funds, Martin Kao submitted another fraudulent application,” Price said. “This time Martin Kao sent a Paycheck Protection Program application to a bank called Radius Bank requesting $2.8 million….It is alleged in the complaint that Martin Kao applied for millions of dollars in Paycheck Protection Program funds twice for the same set of employees.”

Kao also allegedly transferred more than $2 million of the PPP funds his company received to his own personal bank account.

A Navatek spokesman said the government’s actions came as “a complete surprise.” The company said it has obtained legal counsel and is reviewing the claims to address the allegations. 

--HPR's Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

 

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.

 

Federal agents arrested a prominent Hawaiʻi defense contractor Wednesday on charges that he defrauded banks out of millions of dollars in coronavirus relief funds. 

Martin Kao, 47, CEO of Martin Defense Group – formerly known as Navatek, is set to appear in U.S. District Court today on two counts of bank fraud and five counts of money laundering. 

Kao is accused of fraudulently obtaining $12.8 million in Paycheck Protection Program or PPP funds meant to provide loans to struggling businesses under the federal CARES Act.  

According to the charges, Kao allegedly inflated the number of employees on a loan application seeking $10 million in PPP funds from Central Pacific Bank. 

U.S. District Attorney Kenji Price said it was one of two applications submitted by Kao.

“Roughly two weeks after Martin Kao submitted the allegedly fraudulent loan application to Central Pacific Bank, and three days after the bank deposited the funds, Martin Kao submitted another fraudulent application,” Price said. “This time Martin Kao sent a Paycheck Protection Program application to a bank called Radius Bank requesting $2.8 million….It is alleged in the complaint that Martin Kao applied for millions of dollars in Paycheck Protection Program funds twice for the same set of employees.”

Kao also allegedly transferred more than $2 million of the PPP funds his company received to his own personal bank account.

A Navatek spokesman said the government’s actions came as “a complete surprise.” The company said it has obtained legal counsel and is reviewing the claims to address the allegations.