The Latest: 2 Deaths, 108 Cases; Maui Mayor Backs Pre-Travel Testing Change

Nov 25, 2020

Updated: 11/25/2020, 12:15 p.m.

The state Department of Health reported two deaths and 108 new COVID-19 cases today. Because of the department's two-day delay in posting new numbers, the counts represent cases from Monday.

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

Oahu had 93 new cases, Hawaii County 2, Kauai 1, Maui 4, and Lanai and Molokai none. There were 8 new cases diagnosed out of state.

The latest state counts bring the Oahu total to 15,011, Hawaii County, 1,558, Kauai 102, Maui 504, Lanai 106 and Molokai 17. The number of out-of-state cases total 203.

Since the pandemic began, the state has seen 17,501 cases. Deaths rose to 235.

Maui mayor backs change in pre-travel test program

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino says Gov. David Ige’s change in policy requiring passengers to show their negative pre-travel test results before arrival was the right move to make.

Victorino says that counties around the state have been facing a similar challenge when it comes to passengers being tested for COVID-19.

“People came in with negative results—they showed us the QR code—everything was fine. And then three days later they took a secondary test, many times voluntarily—or they felt sick and they went to the doctor and BAM!—they were positive," he said on HPR's The Conversation yesterday. 

"So these cases were mounting—all the islands had it—from Hawaii Island up to Kauai. And all of us mayors were getting a little concerned that we’re really working with community spread—trying to prevent that from occurring—and this could be transmitted to workers or other people you deal with—then it could spread in our community even more rapidly.”

Victorino says the communications strategy about the change in policy could have been handled better—specifically by bringing members of the hospitality industry into the discussion earlier in the process.

Members of the industry say they fear the policy change will negatively impact the recovery underway under the pre-test program.

Victorino also said Lanai is continuing to come back from a recent spike in coronavirus cases. The last two weeks of October were brutal for the island, which saw more than 100 cases of COVID-19.

Victorino said the island is now in much better shape, thanks to a quick response from everyone from state health officials to local volunteers and billionaire Larry Ellison.

Victorino also said the experience shows the importance of fast and widespread testing, especially when the number of cases started to explode on Lanai.

“Within a 2 ½ week period we went from zero to 106," he said. "But I’m proud to say after 10 days, there has been no new cases on the island of Lanai… .”

Victorino said that between 4,200 and 4,400 COVID-19 tests have been done in the past month on Lanai, which has a population of just under 3,100.

--HPR's Bill Dorman

Official: further rail service delay up to Blangiardi administration

The new administration of Honolulu Mayor-elect Rick Blangiardi is expected to decide whether to delay the start of interim service for the rail line.

That’s according to Jon Nouchi, the acting director of the city’s transportation services department.

City officials earlier this year said the rail could begin service between Kapolei and Aloha Stadium by December. They then pushed the projected start to the third quarter of 2021.

Nouchi told a City Council committee that now they could delay the service even further to help save the city money.

'The equity of introducing a new mode, and the cost associated with introducing a new mode, it’s not just a matter of opening the new rail system for the first half," said Nouchi. "There’s the associated bus services that come with it. And perhaps pausing on that will allow us to save a bunch of money that we can use to the health of our current system right now."

Nouchi says his department may face a $40 million to $50 million shortfall in the next fiscal year.

He said the department will discuss when the rail service could begin with the incoming administration.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

City reaches agreements with Airbnb, Expedia on vacation rental enforcement

Taking a page from Kauai, the city has signed agreements with Airbnb and Expedia that will help officials enforce the laws against illegal vacation rentals.

Under the agreements, Airbnb and Expedia, which operates Vrbo, will share information with the city to see whether a rental unit is legal or not.

The owners will need to provide their TMK and transient accommodations tax numbers in advertising on the two platforms.

At a press conference yesterday, Brad Saito, city deputy corporation counsel, explained how this will help the Department of Planning and Permitting with its enforcement..

"Using this information DPP will be able to identify, permitted and unpermitted short-term rentals, and they will also be able to request that unpermitted short-term rentals be permanently taken down from the platforms," he said.

"These listings will not be allowed on Airbnb or Expedia until the Department of Planning and Permitting consents, based on a determination that they have either qualified for relisting based on a registration with DPP or have otherwise met the short-term rental requirements.

"This is a big game changer for the city. Because once the illegal listings are taken down, they don't go back up. So we really are eliminating illegal short-term rentals from the marketplace."

The agreement takes effect in February.

Kauai struck a similar arrangement with Airbnb and Expedia back in June. The companies are also working on agreements with Hawaii Island and Maui.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

Paying for electricity remains a challenge during pandemic

The economic impacts of the pandemic continue to ricochet through households and businesses. One measure of its effect is energy consumption.

At the start of the pandemic as businesses closed, their power usage plummeted. Residential consumption, on the other hand, skyrocketed as workers turned to telework from home and students to distance learning.

Now energy use is shifting again. That's according to Brian Kealoha, executive director of Hawaii Energy, the agency that helps businesses and households reduce their power usage to meet the state's clean energy goals.

"What we're seeing now as we're in almost December of 2020, in this phase of the pandemic, is that business usage has increased. Businesses are starting to reopen, they're starting to extend their operating hours and they're also leaving their doors wide open," he said during a state House of Representatives meeting on sustainability yesterday.

"They're running their air conditioning 24 hours because they want to ventilate the spaces and ensure that they're not spreading the disease unnecessarily. But as you can imagine, that's causing another issue in terms of their operating costs and energy use. And meanwhile, on the residential side usage, [it's] just starting to trend downward as people start to return to work, return to the office, spend less time at home and going out."

But many are still struggling to make ends meet. Hawaiian Electric has seen a marked increase in the numbers who are falling behind in their bill payments, the company said.

Prior to the pandemic, 1 percent of both residential and commercial customers were tardy by more than 90 days. Now, that's 4 percent of households and 3 percent of businesses.

Statewide, HECO serves 55,302 commercial and 410,710 residential customers.

HECO has suspended disconnections through the end of December, in line with a moratorium ordered by the state Public Utilities Commission for all utilities.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro