Hawaii Updates: 18 New Cases; Kauai Mayor Warns About Social Gatherings; Free Tests For Bus Riders

Jun 30, 2020

Updated: 6/30/2020, 2:30 p.m.

The Hawaii Health Department announced 18 new cases of COVID-19 today. Fifteen cases are on Oahu, one case on Kauai, one Maui county, and one case is pending determination of location.

Kauai's case count now stands at 38, Oahu at 652, Maui County at 123, and Hawaii County at 87. A total of 16 residents were diagnosed outside of Hawaii.

The total case count is now 917. The large number of cases comes after a small dip in new cases over the past few days.The number of deaths remains at 18. Of the total cases, 113 have required hospitalization. The count includes Hawaii residents who were hospitalized out of state. Some 736 people have been released from isolation.

Kauai Mayor social gatherings are driving the jump in cases

With the July 4th holiday approaching, Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami warned that social gatherings have clearly driven the recent increase in COVID-19 cases on the Garden Isle and statewide. He said gathering outside of one's household "poses a serious risk of exposure."

"Yes, people are allowed to gather, but please recognize that there is a risk involved in such activities, and act responsibly," he said yesterday in his daily video update. "If you must be around people outside of your immediate family, please wear a mask and keep a physical distance from others."

Kauai had gone weeks without a new case when earlier this month it saw a spike in infections. The mayor said Kauai's past 15 cases were identified and tested after contact tracing that stemmed from one infected individual. The current cases involve three households, he said, but all are connected.

Kauai's case count now stands at 37, Oahu at 638, Maui County at 122, and Hawaii County at 87. A total of 16 residents were diagnosed outside of Hawaii.

The Hawaii Health Department reported only two new cases of COVID-19 yesterday but the increase brought the total statewide cases to 900. Both new cases are Oahu adults associated with a known case and they have been isolated. The small number of new cases follows Sunday's 27 new cases.

The number of deaths remains at 18. Of the total cases, 111 have required hospitalization. The count includes Hawaii residents who were hospitalized out of state. Some 719 people have been released from isolation.

Bus riders, drivers can get free tests at community health centers

After a TheBus driver recently tested positive for COVID-19, the city says riders and drivers can get tested at community health centers if they think they were infected.

The bus driver who typically worked out of the Pearl City division was sick when he drove several routes over the past week: route 9 (Pearl Harbor-Kaimuki); 40 (Makaha-Honolulu); 42 (Ewa Beach-Waikiki); 88A (North Shore Express); and 501 (Mililani Mauka)

City Emergency Management Director Hiro Toiya said at a press conference yesterday that riders or drivers who are showing symptoms and want the tests don’t need to have insurance.

The community health centers where tests are available include: Kalihi Palama Health Center, Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services, Koolauloa Health Center, Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, and Waimanalo Health Center. Location and contact information can be found at hawaiipca.net.

Toiya said the city doesn’t believe the sick driver put the public at high risk. He said TheBus already had a number of safety protocols in place, such as requirements for riders and staff to wear face masks and cleaning procedures.

“The amount of contact that each passenger has with the driver is a very limited amount of time,” said Toiya. “That being said we want to make sure that everybody who needs to be tested has access to testing.”

Oahu Transit Services President Roger Morton said bus and Handi-Van drivers will also be screened and tested starting Thursday.

“We’re going to implement a 100% thermal screening protocol. When our operators and our Handi-Van workers check in for work, we’re going to do our screening for fever and temperature,” Morton said.

On Friday, TheBus will work with the Premier Medical Group to pilot its first protocol to test frontline workers, he said. Depending on results, they may re-test employees every couple of weeks or every month.

While it’s against TheBus policy for drivers to continue work if they are sick, Morton says the organization has learned from the case. 

“I’m not going to go after this operator, but I’m going to reiterate what our policy is,” said Morton. “Going forward, there is no guarantee that we wouldn’t [take disciplinary actions], we expect our drivers to follow the protocol.”’

Morton says TheBus and Handi-Van have changed their leave policies, so employees who do test positive for COVID-19 can stay home without any repercussions. He adds staff can use their sick and holiday leave, and encourages anyone with a vulnerable or sick relative to stay home.

TheBus and Handi-Van are also taking measures to improve the safety of passengers and on-duty drivers, Morton says. TheBus is reconfiguring its bus schedule for busier routes to meet increasing demand while maintaining physical distancing.

A plexiglass screen is also being tested on one bus to separate drivers and riders, but a widespread roll-out may take some time. Morton says only three companies make plexiglass screens for buses, and competition for them is high.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

Hospital official: Hawaii health system capacity remains robust

New cases of COVID-19 have been increasing locally in recent weeks, as Hawaii has moved toward a full reopening of the economy.

Yesterday, the Department of Health reported 2 new cases statewide taking the total to 900. 

But health experts say the current level of infection is manageable and well within the capacity of the local healthcare system to handle.

Current use of critical equipment like ventilators and intensive care beds still falls within sustainable levels.

Data from the Department of Health show that the vast majority of new cases in the month of June were due to community spread, rather than travel-related.

Ray Vara, CEO of the hospital network Hawaii Pacific Health, says residents can prevent community spread by remembering basic health measures.

“Socially distancing around gathering in groups, around wearing face masks, around handwashing, and continuing to remind people who are sick to stay home. All of these things are not only to keep themselves safe, but also to keep others in the community safe,” he said.

“If you look at what's driving some of the more recent activity, it clearly is the result of some of us maybe getting a little bit relaxed in some of those areas.”

More data on local COVID-19 infections can be found on the state Department of Health’s website.

--HPR's Ryan Finnerty

State easing restrictions on large commercial, recreational boats

The state and counties are lifting emergency restrictions on large commercial and recreational vessels.

Those rated with a U.S Coast Guard capacity of more than 10 are allowed to operate provided they do not exceed their rated capacity by more than 50 percent.

Other guidelines related to COVID-19 apply, including physical distancing, hygiene protocols, staffing, and cleaning and disinfecting.

Face mask exemption card is bogus

The state Disability and Communication Access Board says a face mask exempt card circulating on social media is fake. The card says the holder is exempt from wearing a mask because it poses a mental or physical risk.

While it cites the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it also says the holder does not need to disclose his or her disability.

The state health department warned against relying on social media and referred to the ADA website for reliable information. 

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.