Hawaii Updates: No New Cases; Lawmakers Recess; Isolation Rooms Offered; Interisland Travel Easing

May 22, 2020

Where we stand

Hawaii recorded no new coronavirus cases today, continuing the trend in recent days of zero or a few additional cases that is spurring moves to reopen the economy.

The state said it has updated information on the cases and removed five cases from the counts. 

The state health department now reports the number of recorded cases at 642; deaths stand at 17. The case count for Oahu is at 414, Maui County at 117, Hawaii Island at 81 and Kauai at 20. There are 10 cases diagnosed out of state. Some 585 people have been released from isolation.

--HPR News Staff

Legislators recess but return in June 

Hawaii lawmakers recessed yesterday and will return in mid-June to adjust the state budget in light of falling tax revenues and uncertainty over additional emergency help from Congress.

The Legislature’s spending plan covers operations and building projects using rainy day funds, federal CARES Act dollars and borrowed money.

Millions are earmarked for a range of services and projects, including thermal scanners at the airports and more contact tracing -- all without furloughs or service cuts at least for now. 

“But how are we going to balance all of this if we're going to be in the red every month? How are we going to operate the state and pay back loans?" asked Senate Ways and Means Chair Donovan Dela Cruz. "We need these three weeks to figure out and see what Council on Revenues is going to do and what kind of federal assistance Congress is going to pass.”

The Council on Revenues meets next week to update the state’s tax revenue forecasts. The projections determine how much the state can expect to spend in the coming months. 

Among other steps, legislators approved $600 million in loans from the Bank of America to cover an anticpated cash shortfall, requiring the state to exceed its debt limit.

The state can sell general obligation bonds to pay for the loans, which are due in April and October of next year, but the Hawaii economy may still be struggling at that time.

Dela Cruz said state economist Eugene Tian projected that it may take non-tourism sectors of the economy at least two years to recover, while tourism could take 5 to 6 years to bounce back. 

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

Senate creates investigative committee with subpoena powers

The state Senate yesterday approved the creation of a COVID-19 investigative committee with subpoena powers. 

Senators have expressed frustration that some state departments have not provided the information they requested, such as on staff vacancies and plans to deal with the pandemic.

Yesterday's Hawaii Updates: State Unemployment At 22%; Cases Up 4; Lawmakers Told Violent Offenders Release

They were also upset that Gov. David Ige’s chief of staff, Linda Chu Takayama, directed departments to give their information to the governor’s office first.

House Speaker Scott Saiki told reporters that he thinks the Senate investigative committee is unnecessary and not constructive. He said senators were asking for plans that he’s not sure the administration had time to prepare.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

State offers isolation locations in all counties

The state is providing places for those who are ordered to quarantine, but can’t isolate away from family and roommates in their own homes.

Gov. David Ige says most of the locations are in hotels.

"We do know that we have many multi-generational homes here in the islands. And certainly we've all recognized that kupuna and those with certain health conditions are especially vulnerable," he said.

"So for those of you who have been ordered to isolate or quarantine and are unable to do that at home, please, when you get called and talk with the health care professional contact tracing personnel, please share your dilemma and we can work with you to find an appropriate setting for isolation."

Two of the four new cases of COVID-19 yesterday were infected by family members.

Ige says there are now isolation facilities in every county.

The state wouldn’t identify the hotels that are designated for isolation, citing privacy concerns for those using the rooms. 

The state does not track how many people have used the facilities on each island. But officials say there hasn’t been a strong need for the quarantine facilities because most residents self-isolate at home.

--HPR's Ashley Mizuo

Reopening of interisland travel under discussion

State officials are considering what safeguards are needed when Gov. David Ige lifts quarantine restrictions for interisland travel.

Ige announced yesterday he may end the mandatory 14-day quarantine for interisland passengers as part of the state’s ongoing reopening.

He didn’t give a specific date when restrictions could be lifted but he’s working with the counties in finalizing his plans.

Beyond the quarantine, DOT spokesman Tim Sakahara says they’ll be keeping some procedures and modifying others.

"Temperature checks for interisland passengers would continue, even if that 14-day quarantine were to be lifted. Also a new form would be developed specifically for interisland travelers," he said. "They will still have contact information, but would also add some health-related information and questions. And that form is not yet finalized, and we’ll have the input from our partners including the Department of Health, and the attorney general’s office."

Sakahara said the DOT is also discussing ways to flag visitors traveling interisland and closing loopholes in the system that allow some to avoid quarantining.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

State health department shifts its guidelines on testing

Health care providers can now consider testing patients suspected of being infected with COVID-19 to ensure quick identification of cases.

"This is a shift in the DOH’s earlier guidance that required specific symptoms and epidemiological criteria before testing," the department said in a release.

The department said in the past three weeks, the number of sites conducting tests has increased from five to 11, and testing is now available on all Neighbor Islands.

According to data compiled by the department, as of Monday, Hawai‘i has more than 38,300 COVID-19 tests on hand and is performing an average of 690 each day, indicating ample supplies of tests are available. Results are usually turned around on the same day or the next day.

"If necessary, the state has the capability to cumulatively ramp up to 3,620 tests a day, and this number is expected to significantly increase over the next three weeks," said Dr. Edward Desmond, State Laboratories Division administrator.

That may be a reference to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell's announcement this week that the city will step ahead with expanded testing in partnership with public and private organizations.

Caldwell and others had criticized the health department's opposition to broad testing, which had earlier been based in part on the limited availability of tests.

--HPR News Staff

Arrivals continue to increase despite mandatory quarantine

On Wednesday, 1,099 people arrived in Hawaii, including 290 visitors and 361 returning residents, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Other arrivals included 138 crew members, 115 who say they intend to relocate to Hawaii, 107 transiting travelers, 61 military, and 27 exempted from quaramtine by the state.

--HPR News Staff

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

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