Hawaii Updates: Re-Test of Death Case Is Negative; Cases Now 90; Oahu Stay-At-Home Order In Effect

Mar 24, 2020

Updated: 3/24/20, 8:55 p.m.

State health officials erred when they declared Hawaii's first death from the coronavirus. The health department issued a press release tonight saying that a re-test of the case turned up negative for COVID-19.

“I accept all responsibility for not verifying reporting procedures," said Health Director Bruce Anderson. "We’re immediately instituting measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again. My condolences to the family and friends of the person who passed away and our apologies for any undue anxiety this caused.”

The department said the internal communication of a COVID-19 test conducted by its state lab resulted in a report being misread.

Anderson said the department's focus was to issue information in a timely manner. This is an unprecedented situation and the department is still developing best practices, he said.


The health department had said last night that an Oahu adult who had multiple underlying conditions died of the coronavirus on March 20. 

The victim had "potential, indirect travel-related exposure," the department said. The individual had been admitted to the hospital on March 19 and was tested through a commercial laboratory on the same day. The results came back after the death yesterday, and were not conclusive.

Swabs from the person were then submitted to the state laboratories two days after the person died and the results were said to have confirmed COVID-19.

Today, however, health officials say they were re-testing because there may have been an issue with the state lab test. The negative results announced tonight mean Hawaii has no known deaths from the coronavirus.

The number of Hawaii's coronavirus cases, meanwhile, took another jump today. They now stand at 90, up 14 from yesterday. Honolulu has 58, Maui 9, Hawaii Island 2, and Kauai 1. Cases involving non-Hawaii residents number 11, international residents amount to 3 and 6 cases are pending, according to the health department's latest update.

Oahu stay-at-home order now in effect, state's kicks in tomorrow

The city's emergency order for nonessential workers to remain at home and work from home took effect yesterday afternoon. 

Residents can shop for groceries and other supplies, but must keep their distance from others. People can exercise, but state and city parks are closed, except to get to the ocean for surfing or swimming -- again keep apart from others.

Tomorrow at 12:01 a.m., the statewide order to stay-at-home announced by Gov. David Ige yesterday takes effect as does Maui County's emergency rules. Ige's order will cover the entire state, including Hawaii Island and Kauai. The restrictions run through April 30th. 

Essential employees who can continue to go to work under the orders are broadly defined; they include those who work in food stores, health care, agriculture, and education. Residents can leave their home in certain situations, Ige said.

"Residents can also leave their home or place of residence for various needs, including health care, purchasing food medicine and gas, taking care of elderly, minors or those with disabilities," the governor said.

The maximum misdemeanor penalty for not complying with the governor’s order is up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Ige also extended the filing and payment deadline for state individual and corporate taxes to July 20th. But those expecting a tax refund should still file as soon as possible, he said.

City to ease parking rules for businesses, on select roads

Restaurant and food businesses can cover up parking meters to allow customers to stop curbside for pickup and drive-through orders, the city announced today.

Businesses can have up to three bags to cover up meters for the reserved spaces, which all nearby food establishments must be allowed to share, said Jon Noguchi with the city's Department of Transportation Services.

Steve Lee of Eastern Paradise restaurant said the move will help small, local businesses during a tough time. He said curbside businesses will help the restaurants survive.

Food trucks and other businesses distributing food can get a special street usage permit good to April 30 that allows them to park in metered stalls with parking fees waived.

DTS staff will be at Honolulu Hale, ground floor, to distribute the meter bags and street usage permits for food trucks starting tomorrow and Friday (Thursday, Kuhio Day, the city will be closed).

Restaurants will need to give their restaurant names and addresses to get the meter bags; food trucks need to bring a copy of their annual state Department of Health permit, food truck name and license plate number for their vehicle to receive the street usage permits.

Homeless encampment enforcement suspended

The City and County of Honolulu is suspending its enforcement of homeless encampment laws until further notice.

Housing coordinator Marc Alexander made the announcement yesterday during a press conference.

The change follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance issued Sunday on clearing homeless encampments. The CDC recommended against cleanups during times of virus spread to prevent dispersing the homeless through communities.

Alexander said the city will suspend its enforcement efforts unless there is a public health threat.

The city also expanded the hours of its Punawai Rest Stop for homeless services from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. On April 1, the facility will be open 24/7.

"So, this combination working in concert with our providers, and again for the health and benefit of all, we believe we’ll be able to address the needs of the community," he said.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced the city will reopen public restrooms at city parks starting tomorrow, March 25. While parks remain closed, people can use the restrooms during times when the parks would normally be open.

"They'll be open for those who absolutely need to use the restroom," said Caldwell. "And then they'll need to leave the park because the parks are closed . . . it's not a place to gather in." 

Caldwell says the city is starting to deploy its mobile hygiene centers to areas where there are homeless encampments. 

Officials say the city and state Department of Health have made some progress on an isolation facility on Ka’a’ahi Street in Iwilei that can accommodate homeless people who contract the coronavirus. There has been no opening date scheduled.

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 developments in dealing with the spread of the coronavirus. You can call our talkback line at 808-792-8217. Or e-mail us at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.