The Latest: 2 Deaths, 144 Cases; HSTA Condemns Draft School Budget Cuts; Ala Moana Project Advances

Dec 3, 2020

Updated: 12/3/2020, 12:10 p.m. 

The state Department of Health reported two deaths and 144 new COVID-19 cases today -- a doubling of cases from the day before. Because of the department's two-day delay in posting new numbers, the counts represent cases from Tuesday.

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

According to the state numbers, Oahu had 118 new cases, Maui 14, Hawaii County 7, Kauai 2, and Molokai and Lanai had none. There were 3 new cases diagnosed out of state.

The latest state counts bring the Oahu total to 15,540, Hawaii County, 1,613, Maui 565, Kauai 116, Lanai 106 and Molokai 18. The number of out-of-state cases totals 228.

Since the pandemic began, the state has tallied 18,186 cases. The death toll stands at 246.

HSTA warns of teacher job cuts in proposed DOE budget

The state Department of Education plans budget cuts for the next fiscal year that could result in major job reductions, according to the Hawaii State Teachers Association. 

Corey Rosenlee, the union's president, said yesterday that special education and regular teacher positions are jeopardized under the DOE's proposals.

He said the budget proposal includes major cut in two areas: a 10% reduction in the weighted student formula that determines distribution of funds to schools and a 9% cut in special education.

"Together, these two budget cuts could mean 1,000 special education and regular education teaching positions could be lost. This would impact our keiki," he said.

"Other programs such as art, music, Hawaiian studies, Hawaiian language immersion, career and technical education, physical education -- all can be reduced or eliminated. Class sizes could also increase and we could see programs such as advanced placement, electives, and gifted and talented either be reduced or eliminated."

With the state facing a $2 billion shortfall, Rosenlee says Hawaii's best hope is for Congress to approve more aid. But the news from Washington suggests that's not likely to happen anytime soon.

Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said in a statement that the department was directed to identify budget reductions of at least 10% for the next two years.

The cuts, coming on top of those taken this year, will total over $260 million. She said these reductions will be felt by students.

"We will continue to reiterate that an investment in students is an investment in Hawaii's future," she added.

The budget plan goes before the state Board of Education today before sent to Gov. David Ige for submittal to the Legisalture.

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

Ala Moana apartment project moves forward

A plan to allow a rail-oriented apartment building in Ala Moana is moving forward at Honolulu Hale.

The City Council’s zoning committee yesterday advanced a measure to redevelop a 79,000-square-foot property on Piikoi Street.

The developer is planning a 400-foot tower,with more than 500 units -- 20-percent of them in the affordable range.

Some homeowners in the community are concerned. They say the building will decrease property values in neighboring buildings and impact the area’s infrastructure.

Committee Chair Ron Menor said he believes the project will provide significant community benefits.

"It will provide badly needed rental units or housing for many of our local residents in the workforce. And I would note that the percentage that the developer would be required to provide is a meaningful one. In addition, this project will create jobs and promote economic and other revitalization," he said.

"I think it is significant that the developer is willing to grant easements, with respect to streets that are privately owned, which will contribute, or help, the city address the cost of the rail project – as well as provide access to the rail stations and bus stops for residents in that area."

The measure next goes to the full City Council for further review and discussion.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

Visitor numbers dip since stricter pre-flight testing requirement

A total of 9,185 people arrived in Hawaii from out of state on Tuesday. Of the total, 3,935 said they came for pleasure or vacation and 2,027 were returning residents.

Since Nov. 24, arrivals are required to have their negative COVID-19 test results in hand in order to bypass the 14-day travel quarantine. Prior to that, passengers could arrive without their results and get out of quarantine once they showed their negative test.

Tourism industry representatives feared the requirement to have results on arrival would discourage visitors from coming to Hawaii. 

There has been a dip in visitors since Nov. 24. Prior to the change between Nov. 17 and Nov. 23, the average daily number of vacationers reached 5,867 while between Nov. 25 and Dec. 1, they averaged 3,573.

The reason for the decline is not clear since it coincided with health experts' strong recommendations that Americans refrain from traveling during the Thanksgiving holiday. 

Meanwhile, the counties are proposing or implementing second tests for arrivals to help stem the spread of the virus. More data would help policymakers decide if such requirements are effective.

Kauai couple testing positive arrested after officials say they took flight anyway

HONOLULU (AP) — A couple was arrested at a Hawaii airport for traveling on a flight from California despite knowing they were infected with COVID-19, authorities said.

Wesley Moribe, 41, and Courtney Peterson, 46, boarded a United Airlines flight to Lihue with a 4-year-old child after San Francisco International Airport officials told them Sunday to isolate themselves and avoid the flight, the Kauai Police Department said.

Police escorted the couple to a designated isolation room after the plane landed, where they were arrested on suspicion of second-degree reckless endangering.

The residents of Wailua on Kauai were released after posting $1,000 bail each.

The child was released into the care of a family member and the Child Protective Services division of the state Department of Human Services was notified.

Moribe and Peterson took COVID-19 detection tests before the flight as part of Hawaii's pre-travel testing program, officials said.

They both tested positive for the virus and were taken to the San Francisco airport's quarantine station and told not to fly.

“They knowingly boarded a flight aware of their positive COVID-19 test results, placing the passengers of the flight in danger of death,” Kauai police said.

Peterson did not immediately return voicemail messages Thursday seeking comment. A phone number associated with Moribe had been disconnected.

Democratic Gov. David Ige last week approved Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami’s request to temporarily allow the island to opt out of the state testing program.

The policy scheduled to take effect Wednesday requires travelers to Kauai to spend 14 days in quarantine regardless of whether they obtain a negative COVID-19 test.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

--Associated Press