Hawaii Updates: 1 Death, 17 New Cases; DOH Seeks Contact Tracers; Kauai, Expedia Strike STR Deal

Jun 26, 2020

Updated: 6/26/2020, 7:38 p.m.

Where we stand

The Hawaii Department of Health reports that Hawaii recorded its 18th death from COVID-19 today. An elderly Honolulu man died from the virus, the first coronavirus death in the islands since May 3. The state also reported 17 new cases today, the second daily jump as the state plans for a partial lifting of the visitor quarantine on Aug. 1.

Gov. David Ige expressed his condolences to the family and friends of the man and reiterated the need to continue safe practices in the pandemic.

“This is the worst way to emphasize the need for all of us to continue safe practices such as physical distancing, wearing of masks, and hand washing,” he said.

“We must protect our kupuna and others who are at high risk, by practicing personal responsibility, especially around others outside our own immediate family or household,” Ige said in a media release.

The state Department of Health said today that many residents are becoming lax in their practices and attitudes about COVID-19. The number of people who considered the virus as a very serious health concern fell from 73% to 54% in less than two months, based on survey results.

The department said what is more alarming is that fewer residents are following safety recommendations "most of the time" or "part of the time."

Health officials say they believe the recent spikes in COVID-19 cases resulted from Hawaii residents becoming less vigilant.

Of today's new cases, 14 are from Oahu, one case is from Kauai, and two cases are residents diagnosed outside of the state. One case was removed from the total count after updated information.

Yesterday, there were 16 new cases. Wednesday also saw 16 new cases, but on Tuesday, only three new cases were reported and four on Monday. That follows 11 on Sunday, 14 on Saturday, and 27 on Friday.

There has now been a total of 866 cases of COVID-19 statewide. The number of deaths now at 18. Of the total cases, 109 have required hospitalization. The count includes Hawaii residents who were hospitalized out of state. Some 705 have been released from isolation.

The case count for Oahu now stands at 608, Maui County at 122, Hawaii County at 86, and Kauai County at 34. There is a total of 16 residents who were diagnosed outside of Hawai’i.

Meanwhile, Hale Nani Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, the state's largest skilled nursing facility, reported one additional case Wednesday, according to an update on the facility's website, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases there to 17.

Eleven are residents, including one who was transferred into Hale Nani from a hospital, and six are staff members. Of the residents, five have been hospitalized and six are in an isolation unit at the facility. All are in stable condition, according to Hale Nani. Another round of testing is scheduled next week.

At Kalakaua Gardens, a senior living community where two staff members were confirmed positive on June 5, no other staff nor any of the residents had positive results after more testing, the facility said in a news release yesterday.

City supporting Waipio testing event this weekend

In response to the recent jump in COVID-19 cases, the city is supporting a drive-in testing event tomorrow at the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The tests are being run by Premier Medical Group Hawaii.

Participants will be screened before standard PCR testing with nose swabs. The state Department of Health guidelines will be followed. Tests will be offered without charge to those who lack insurance.

Follow the signs to the parking lot at the soccer complex. For more information, call the Premier Medical Group at (808) 304-8816 or (808) 367-6020.

Police reform bills move forward 

In a sometimes chaotic, eight-minute hearing, the state Senate public safety committee yesterday passed two police reform bills with no public discussion.

The hearing was streamed on an Olelo Public Access channel until the committee went into deliberations. At that point, the cameras were turned off.

The committee came back shortly after that and proceeded to vote on the measures with amendments.

Because there was no public discussion, it wasn’t clear why one member, Sen. Kurt Fevella, was voting “no” on one bill.  H.B. 1901, S.D. 1 would require a law enforcement standards board to review and recommend policies on the use of force, and investigate complaints.

A second measure, H.B. 1278, S.D. 1, would establish a duty to intervene that requires police to step in when they believe another officer is using excessive force on someone being arrested.

The measures are in response to the national outcry over police killings of African-Americans and the call for reform of police practices.

Both bills now go to other committees.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

Clinical healthcare workers sought as contact tracers

The University of Hawaii and state Department of Health are looking for more applicants with clinical healthcare experience and undergraduate degrees who are available to train and work as contact tracers.

The work for full-time contact tracers is for up to three months "in the near future," the agencies said in a release. They will also consider a smaller number of part-time contact tracers working at least 20 hours per week.

The contact tracers will supplement the DOH staff to identify those who are sick with COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone with the virus.

The state has been looking to train more contact workers in preparation for the reopening of businesses and travel.

“We are now specifically seeking clinical healthcare professionals who are available to be activated by DOH full-time as contact tracers,” said said Aimee Grace, UH program lead and director of the UHealthy Hawaiʻi Initiative

A free, one-and-a-half day online training course is open to registered nurses, nurse practitioners, social workers, pharmacists, physicians, physician assistants, emergency medical technicians and paramedics.

Those interested can sign up on the training program website.

Bill advances for health emergencies, visitor testing authority 

The state health director could declare a public health emergency under a measure moving forward at the Legislature. But a Senate committee wants the declaration to first be approved by the governor.

The Senate consumer protection committee amended H.B. 2502 yesterday to make that change.

The bill also allows health department to screen, test and monitor visitors for dangerous diseases or viruses.

The measure originally dealt with healthcare workforce – especially in rural parts of the state.

But its content was gutted and replaced with the proposal on health emergencies and testing.

Lawmakers have used the gut-and-replace maneuver to fast-track bills during the pandemic, but measures may not get a full public airing.

The health measure will next be heard by the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

City contraflow lanes on Kapiolani, Ward restart on July 1

Traffic cones will appear again on Kapiolani Boulevard and Ward Avenue as more people return to work and the city restores contraflow lanes.

The morning contraflow will run from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Monday to Friday, excluding holidays. The afternoon contraflow operates from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, also not including holidays.

Parking in tow away zones along South King, Beretania and Date Streets and Wilder Avenue will no longer be allowed during the morning and afternoon commute hours, from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

The city is encouraging workers to telecommute if they can to reduce traffic congestion, accidents and carbon emissions.

Hawaii Island reopens public swimming pools, bars

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim issued an emergency rule yesterday reopening bars and public swimming pools, and restarting outdoor organized sports in phases.

Nightclubs, large indoor and outdoor venues such as concerts and conventions, and road races such as marathons will remain closed, the county said in a news release.

Bars can reopen today, with safety requirements identical to restaurants with some added measures:

  • Limit groups within the bar to a maximum of 10 people per group.
  • Separate groups within the bar by at least six feet from other groups.
  • Prohibit groups within the bar from intermingling.
  • Require all employees that interact with the public to wear face coverings.
  • Require all customers to wear face coverings when entering and leaving the bar.

Subject to safety rules, swimming pools can resume operations on July 13. Camping reopens beginning July 13 and August 1, depending on location, while outdoor organized team sports can restart in phases, beginning on June 26 and July 20.

Kauai strikes agreement with Expedia to regulate vacation rentals

Mayor Derek Kawasaki signed a memorandum of agreement with the travel site Expedia that operates vacation rental site Vrbo.com. The agreement allows officials to better track and regulate vacation rentals, the county said in a statement.

The agreement allows responsible vacation rental owners and operators to advertise on the online travel platforms. In return, the platforms will need to provide information on vacation rentals to the county.

“While this conversation began almost a year ago, the signing comes at a critical time as Kaua‘i takes steps towards the safe recovery of its visitor industry," said Amanda Pedigo, vice president of government affairs at Expedia Group. 

The agreement details the steps that the vacation rental platforms must take, including creating a mandatory field for the government-issued tax map key for each property. Without the TMK on the listing, a property cannot advertise on the platform.  

Expedia Group will also provide monthly reports of the TMK numbers of properties on its sites.

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

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.