The Latest: 10 Deaths, 106 New Cases; BOE Chair Paints Grim Budget Picture For Schools

Dec 4, 2020

Updated: 12/4/2020, 12:23 p.m.

The state Department of Health reported 10 deaths and 106 new COVID-19 cases today -- a startling increase in fatalities. Because of the department's two-day delay in posting new numbers, the counts represent cases from Wednesday.

Some counties are reporting more timely numbers that may differ from the state's counts.

According to the state numbers, Oahu had 73 new cases, Maui County 15, Hawaii County 11, and Kauai 3. Lanai and Molokai had none. Four more were diagnosed out of state.

The latest state counts bring the Oahu total to 15,613, Hawaii County, 1,623, Maui 579, Kauai 119, Lanai 106 and Molokai 18. The number of out-of-state cases totals 232. One case each from Maui and Hawaii Island were taken out of the counts based on updated information.

Since the pandemic began, the state has tallied 18,290 cases. The death toll stands at 256.

BOE chair expects years of budget cuts

The state Board of Education yesterday approved a $100.2 million reduction for each year of its fiscal 2022 through fiscal 2023 budgets.

The annual cuts include over $24 million dollars in special education programs and a 10 percent reduction in the weighted school formula that sets funding for the schools.

Superintendent Christina Kishimoto estimated the reductions would result in the loss of well over 1,000 jobs in the department.

At a state Board of Education meeting yesterday, Chair Cathrine Payne painted a grim picture of school funding in the years to come.

"The reality of what is happening to our schools and state is devastating. I personally feel despair more than hope most days as I think of those who will suffer most over the next couple of years -- because this is not one year that we’re talking about. The governor has talked about four years of these cuts," she said. "Those who will suffer the most are the poorest children and families who are already suffering.

The board had a deadline of today to approve a budget plan and send it to Gov. David Ige.

The school cuts are just a piece of the state’s effort to make up a shortfall of over $2 billion. The governor’s final budget proposal will go to the state Legislature, where major changes are expected.

--HPR's Ashley Mizuno

Flights up this month but visitor count still extremely low

Airlines are continuing to add flights to Hawaii as the state’s tourism industry carries on its recovery.

Nine hundred thirty-five additional flights will land in the islands this month as compared to November.

Airlines drastically curtailed flights in March and April, when health concerns and travel restrictions caused the number of passengers to decrease sharply.

Among the new flights this month will be nearly 100 from Japan and Canada – the first two international destinations included in Hawaii’s Safe Travel program.

Despite those additions, visitors for 2020 are expected to be just a fraction of the more than 10 million who came to the islands in 2019.

State Chief Economist Eugene Tian told the Hawaii Economic Association yesterday that he doesn't expect the state to see 10 million visitors again for several years.

"Our preliminary tourism economic forecast is that in 2020, this year, we may have about 2.7 million visitors. That’s a decrease by about 74%. Next year we will recover by about 60% of the 2019 level, and it will be about 70 to 80% in the next two years. 

Local economists say the launch of the state’s pre-travel testing program in October has already provided substantial economic benefits, including the return of roughly 30,000 lost jobs.

But Hawaii’s unemployment rate remains the highest in the nation at more than 14 percent.

Tian predicted the state’s jobless rate will not fall below 7 to 8 percent in 2021….similar to levels seen after the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009.

--HPR's Ryan Finnerty

Trump approves Ige's request to extend Hawaii National Guard

President Trump has approved Gov. David Ige's request to extend Hawaii National Guard funding for COVID-19 efforts through March 2021, the state announced yesterday.

The request had been pending for five weeks, forcing state officials to plan contingencies if the funding did not come through by the end of the year.

The Guard has been pivotal in the state's efforts to stem the spread of the virus, providing help with contact tracing, testing, health education, food and medical supply distribution.

Guard members are also expected to help in the coming distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

The state said it costs about $8.5 million per month to fund the Guard's emergency assistance covering 800 soliders and airmen.

Under federal law, the Federal Emergency Management Act will fund 75 percent of the cost and the state cover 25 percent -- or about $2 million a month.

Hawaii can ask for additional funding to cover up to 1,300 Guard members.

Caldwell says prison cases preventing city from easing more restrictions

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell admonished state officials to take all precautions to keep down the number of COVID-19 cases in the prisons.

The mayor says the inmate infections at the Waiawa Correctional Facility are preventing the city from moving from Tier 2 to Tier 3 of its reopening plan and easing more restrictions.

"It's very hard for a prisoner to get infected because they don't go out and get infected in our broader community. They stay in prison. So the virus is coming in through those who work in the prison," he said.

"And I think it's a reminder that those who operate our prisons, make sure that those coming in are as protected as possible. Whether it's temperature taking, whether it's regular test taking, whether it's wearing the proper PPE, whether it's doing health checks -- if you feel sick, not being allowed to come to work. We can control the spread in prisons."

The mayor said it is concerning to him because the reopening plan hinges on Oahu's positivity rate and case numbers, including prisoners.

"Because unlike the rest of our country, there's only a limited number of hospitals [here]. You can't put someone in an ambulance and take them across county lines to another hospital," he said.

According to the state Department of Public Safety, 197 Waiawa inmates have tested positive and 134 remained active as of Wednesday.

Spokeswoman Toni Schwartz said by email that prison officials are taking multiple steps to catch the virus and keep it out of correctional facilities, including full PPE for staff and restrictions on employees who feel sick. 

But she added: "The reality is this. The virus is widespread across the island of Oahu. We expect it to show up in the facilities."

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro