The Latest: Navatek CEO Arrested; 2 Deaths, 121 Cases; UH Football Suspended After Positive Tests

Sep 30, 2020

Updated: 9/30/2020, 2:13 p.m.

Hawaiʻi defense contractor Martin Kao was arrested today, accused by federal prosecutors of CARES Act fraud. The prominent Hawaiʻi businessman allegedly defrauded banks of more than $12.8 million in federal funds that were supposed to help small businesses struggling in the pandemic.

Kao, 47, faces two counts of bank fraud and five counts of money laundering. 

As chief executive officer of Navatek LLC, now known as Martin Defense Group LLC, Kao allegedly submitted two fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program loan applications. He received about $12.8 million and transferred over $2 million to his personal accounts, federal prosecutors say.

According to a federal complaint, Kao falsely overstated the number of employees on the applications and falsely swore that Navatek and its affiliates would not receive another PPP loan.

The PPP program provides qualified small businesses and other organizations two-year loans that carry a 1% interest rate. The loans can be forgiven if the businesses use the funds on expenses for a certain period of time and if a set percentage goes toward payroll. 

HPR is attempting to reach Kao or his company for comment.

Kao is scheduled to make his first appearance tomorrow morning in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.

UH athletics suspended after football players test positive

Four football players at the University of Hawaii have tested positive for COVID-19.

The university made the announcement today—saying that all team activities at the athletics complex at the UH Manoa campus have been suspended for the day, “out of an abundance of caution.”

A spokesperson says all four are asymptomatic and are now in isolation at the university.The Hawaii Department of Health has been notified and contact tracing is underway.

A UH spokesperson says more than 140 student athletes were tested yesterday as part of the department’s weekly testing program—adding that all test results are expected by the end of the day.

--HPR's Bill Dorman

Where we stand

The Hawaii Department of Health today reported two deaths from COVID-19 and 121 new cases. The latest statewide case count brings the total number of infections to 12,410 since the pandemic began. Deaths stand at 136. 

There have now been 11,197 cases on Oahu, 730 on Hawaii Island, 391 for Maui, and 59 on Kauai. One more people has been diagnosed out of state, bringing the total to 33. One case from Honolulu was removed from the count due to updated information; one was recategorized from Honolulu to out-of-state and one was recategorized from Honolulu to Hawaii.

The seven-day average positivity rate nudged up to 3% statewide yesterday. The county rates ranged from 4.3% for Oahu, 1.1% for Hawai'i County, 0.5% for Kaua'i County and 0.1% for Maui County.

New coronavirus cases and the positivity rate have generally been declining in the state, contributing to calls for the state to further reopen.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said yesterday's 147 COVID-19 hospitalizations are half the number from a month ago.

He also said American Airlines will be joining United Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines in offering tests under the pre-flight program to begin Oct. 15. Those who test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of their flight to Hawaii could be spared the two-week quarantine.

Concerns are mounting that more is needed beyond the one pre-travel test to keep COVID-19 cases from surging as they did in late July and August.

Gov. David Ige is expected to announce more details about the pre-test program and a modified interisland quarantine this week. 

Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said during a tourism webinar yesterday that his island is not ready to drop the interisland quarantine entirely. But he said while the pre-test program for Mainland visitors is moving ahead, there is nothing in place for interisland travel. 

"And in a sense that’s why we’re scrambling to do a 72-hour, post arrival, rapid test program. It’s because you know it’s a lot better than quarantining for 14 days, but it’s relatively safe," he said.

 

Concerns raised about pre-test program

Hawaii is less than 16 days away from reopening tourism to Mainland visitors. But state and county lawmakers still have concerns about how the industry can safely restart.

Honolulu City Council member Ron Menor sent a letter to Gov. David Ige yesterday asking him to consider more safety requirements before the reopening.

And during a tourism webinar, state Sen. Glenn Wakai said voluntary pre-travel testing isn’t a “well-thought-out plan.”

"From a policy standpoint, we need to take care of our problems at home first," Wakai said. "I mean, the fact that we haven’t figured out how to get school kids back into the classroom first, and somehow expect to open up the economy – and send mom and dad to work, with their kids at home. From a policy standpoint, we should really take care of our issues at home before we start thinking about inviting new problems into our community."

He said tourism and public health are "not two separate buckets, they’re one bucket. And what we’re about to do on Oct. 15 is to add more dangerous potential problems into this bucket, and just have an overflow to make it even more problematic."

Wakai suggested the state look to Alaska, which has COVID-testing requirements for those traveling into the state.

Those who favor the reopening say Hawaii needs to restart its economy and get people working again.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

UH student dies of COVID-19

A University of Hawaii West Oahu student has died after contracting coronavirus.

Jezreel Lowie B. Juan died on Friday, the university said in a statement.

Juan had transferred to the West Oahu campus in 2019 as a junior after attending Honolulu Community College. A university spokeswoman on Wednesday said they did not have Juan's age or hometown.

“As a first-generation immigrant, his drive to work in the STEM field to make his family proud became clear as he spoke passionately about his degree and what it could afford him and his family,” the statement issued Tuesday said.

"Because of his student leadership at both Honolulu Community College and UH West Oahu, he was recently nominated to be a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success."

The statement said Juan had a “quiet, steady manner that revealed a powerful motivation to succeed as a student.”

The statement said Juan was not on campus and did not expose the university community to the virus.

"He took his studies very seriously and even in his last stages of fighting COVID-19, he worried about class assignments and constantly asked his father how he could make up for the work he was missing," the statement said. “We are proud to have been touched by him in this life.”

--Associated Press

Some Wailuku Clinic services closing, jobs affected

Kaiser Permanente is closing some of its surgical services at its Wailuku Clinic on Maui. The move impacts health care at the clinic and about 30 jobs at the facility.

Kaiser’s gastrointestinal and ambulatory surgery services will end but other services at the Wailuku Clinic will remain open. 

Kaiser will move most of the clinic patients who have in and out surgeries to Maui Memorial Medical Center. 

The announcement comes just weeks after Maui Memorial reported its capacity had reached 90 percent.

Gastrointestinal nurse Susannah Evangelista is worried about her Wailuku clinic patients moving to the busy hospital.

"How are they going to be able to handle the load of patients that we have?" Evangelista asked.

She said she often treats cancer patients who need to have their procedures done quickly. 

Beyond Maui Memorial, Evangelista said there aren’t many options for patients on the island.

"The other side to that not only is our jobs, but it's the patients. So the option is they can fly to Honolulu, to go to Moanalua [Medical Center] for a procedure. But a lot of people are honestly very scared about this COVID," she said.

A Kaiser Permanente spokesperson said the clinic needs upgrades that are too costly, so it is closing some services.

Among the 27 jobs on the chopping block are 17 nursing positions. 

Michelle Bausch, an ambulatory service nurse, has been working at Kaiser for 30 years, and at the Wailuku clinic for five.

"I have put a lot of effort, love into working for Kaiser. I really loved it. And I've always thought, I'm still hoping that it's true, that they'll come back and take care of me," she said. "I haven't heard anything, I haven't even had reassurances as to what's going to happen. So that said, that makes me wonder, are they thinking about me? Or is it just the bottom line?"

Although nurses are in short supply statewide, both Bausch and Evangelista worry about finding new jobs on Maui.

Evangelista’s husband lost his job during the pandemic, so she is the sole provider in her family.

"I've been here for 29 years officially. My kids were born here. I own a house here. My intention is not to go anywhere. It's sad to think that I would have to make a decision about where I can afford to live. Because I would not be able to find work here as a nurse in the middle of a pandemic on an island," she said.

Kaiser says it will try to find positions for those affected with other Kaiser hospitals or affiliates. 

The services were to close on October 15th but the date has been pushed back. 

Evangelista and Bausch say they haven’t been notified of the new date, but are trying to remain hopeful while they wait for word.

--HPR's Ashley Mizuo

Liliha Healthcare Center reports outbreak

Liliha Healthcare Center is working with the Hawaii Department of Health to investigate an outbreak of COVID-19 at the facility.

The center says a total of 21 residents and 6 staff have been infected. In an updated statement, it says 15 residents, who tested positive, were transported temporarily to Wahiawa General Hospital where they continue to be tested and monitored for possible symptoms.

All infected patients remain isolated under public health monitoring. Additional testing is conducted every week for residents and staff while they are checked for symptoms twice a day.

The Department of Health is leading the investigation to identify close contacts of the affected individuals.

--HPR's Derrick Malama

 

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.