Updated: 4/28/2020, 6:46 p.m.
Health officials reported two new cases of the coronavirus today, continuing a trend of single-digit increases in recent days that is spurring efforts to reopen the state. Hawaii's case count is at 609. Deaths stand at 16.
The two new cases are both Maui adults. One is a Lanai resident who has been hospitalized on Maui for an extended time, having been transported to Maui in early March for treatment not tied to the coronavirus. The patient initially tested negative, but a second screening came back positive.
The Oahu case count is now at 396, Maui County 115, Hawaii Island 70, and Kauai 21. No cases are pending determination of county and seven were diagnosed out of state.
Yesterday, the state Department of Health reported on the latest death, an Oahu woman over 65 who had underlying medical conditions and had been hospitalized since early April. The department is looking into whether the case involves travel or is the result of community spread.
“It’s hard to hear about these additional deaths as the coronavirus continues to take its toll on our community," Health Director Bruce Anderson said in a statement yesterday. "While the number of positive cases in the state has dramatically decreased, we can expect to continue to see deaths of those seriously impacted by the disease.”
Anderson has pointed out that Hawaii has the lowest death rate in the country.
The department earlier reported on the 15th fatality -- an Oahu man over 65 who also had underlying medical conditions. The man had been hospitalized since March and his case is believed to be the result of community spread.
The single new case reported yesterday was initially reported by the state as an employee of Maui Memorial Medical Center. Today, the health department said this was an error and the patient was an employee of Maui Medical Group working at the hospital. The case is under investigation and the source of the infection has not yet been determined.
Maui Memorial now has a cluster of 58 cases, with 38 staff and 20 patients falling ill.
The health department says it has recommended to the hospital that it repeat training of the staff on proper use of personal protective equipment and other protective measures.
Non-essential businesses, including florists, poised to reopen
Hawaii David Ige says the decline in new coronavirus cases allows the state to ease its stay-at-home restrictions, with flower shops among the first wave of non-essential businesses that will be allowed to reopen on May 1 – in time for Mother’s Day.
“COVID-19 cases have been dropping. And they’ve been in the single digits for more than the last week. So we began the conversations of what happens next. What is the next phase," said Ige.
Ige said he spoke with the county mayor and they agreed florists could operate under social distancing guidelines.
Last week, Ige cancelled permission for the florists to make deliveries, saying the move was premature and that the person granting approval did not have the authority to do so.
But in. Facebook Live session late yesterday, Ige said the flower shops can open if they take orders online or by phone, going to pickups only an curbside service. The openings next month of the non-essential businesses would be the first easing of stay-at-home restrictions and moving to a "safer at home" phase.
Florists sought to reopen before the critical Mother's Day season but the initial permission to make deliveries, then Ige's cancellation and now the planned reopening has been a roller coaster ride.
Monty Pereira, general manager of Watanabe Floral, said the flower shops contacted the state about a month ago for permission to operate.
Ige said the permission granted for florists is not a rule exemption. Rather the florists will be part of the first wave of businesses that will be allowed to operate starting Friday. The governor did not say what other businesses can expect to reopen.
--HPR's Sandee Oshiro
UHERO, Chamber survey finds some businesses income drops to zero
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Hawaii’s economy with an uneven impact.
That word comes from a survey just out from the University of Hawaii’s Economic Research Organization and the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii.
The survey found local businesses have cut nearly a quarter of a million full-time and part-time workers.
Hotels and retail businesses have been affected the most.
The survey found that about a third of businesses have seen their revenue reduced to zero during the pandemic, including more than half of hotels and nearly half of restaurants and retail operations.
It also confirms that small businesses are particularly vulnerable, suggesting the federal Paycheck Protection Program may not be enough to accomplish its goals.
Nearly a quarter of those surveyed said they cannot survive without further financial support and nearly a third said they expect they will have to make further staff cuts in order to keep their businesses in operation.
--HPR's Bill Dorman
Unemployment numbers adjusted, less than a third of claims paid out
The state has received 221,000 jobless claims in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and processed about 30 percent of them, according to the labor department's new numbers.
In April through the 24th, the state has paid out $116.4 million in unemployment benefits.
The claims actually filed numbered 309,765 but about 88,034 of them were duplicates, leaving 221,731 as unique filings.
Of the total, 181,846 were processed and 65,252 claims were paid out.
House Speaker Scott Saiki says the new processing location at the Hawaii Convention Center is reducing the state’s backlog of unemployment claims.
Saiki says thousands of claims were processed over two days last week and the 200 computers set up at the center are now fully staffed.
“On Thursday, 10,000 claims were processed in one day. I think Friday was probably the same amount. We’re hoping to be near 10,000 claims per day. I think there’s been a delay in processing but we’re working to clear the backlog,” he said.
--HPR News Staff
Deadline today for release of inmates
Today is the deadline for judges to decide on the release of hundreds of non-violent inmates from Hawaiʻi’s overcrowded jails and prisons.
The state public defenderʻs office filed motions for the release of more than 500 people, but itʻs unclear how many of these cases have been resolved.
Hawaiʻiʻs incarcerated population dropped by a little more than 300 since the beginning of April. Thatʻs when the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court expedited efforts to potentially release more non-violent inmates.
The goal is to free up enough room to implement social distancing measures and quarantine or isolate any positive COVID-19 cases. The state has said there have not been any positive cases at the prisons.
It's difficult to tell whether the increased efforts to ease overcrowding are achieving their goals. Thatʻs because some of the 300 detainees may have already been scheduled for release this month. Others may have hired attorneys to speed their release.
Last week, the public defender’s office filed motions for 528 individuals. In some cases, prosecutors have objected to releasing individuals who may not have a place to go to once they are let out. Court documents also show some judges are denying motions even when a prosecutor has filed no objections.
This appears to go against the high courtʻs orders that “release shall be presumed” if the detainee does not pose a significant risk of public danger. The high court issued another order Friday urging officials to move more quickly in releasing non-violent inmates.
--HPR's Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi
Outpatient services reopening for one Hawaii Island hospital
Queen’s North Hawaii Community Hospital is resuming outpatient services today. That includes imaging, rehabilitation services and surgical services.
To prepare, the hospital has made some social distancing changes , like having only three chairs in waiting rooms, taking temperatures, requiring everyone to wear masks.
And appointments for physical rehabilitation are more spread out to limit the chances of contact.
Lynn Scully is the hospital’s spokeswoman. She said many people think that elective procedures are optional.
"But really much of that elective care is necessary, whether it's helping maintain cardiology meds or helping diabetic patients.That's all really important care. And the longer people go with many of these conditions or issues, sometimes it ends up more difficult," she said.
Because elective surgeries were cancelled, the hospital’s capacity is lower than ever, Scully said. And that’s why people shouldn’t be concerned about taking beds away from COVID-19 patients.
For those not comfortable going to the hospital, Scully says tele-health is available.
--HPR's Ashley Mizuo
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
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