The Latest: 4 Deaths, 74 New Cases; DOH Analyzing COVID Samples For Variant

Feb 3, 2021

Updated 2/3/21, 11:59 a.m.

State health officials warn that the more transmissible UK COVID-19 virus may be present in Hawaii. Diagnostic Labs detected a molecular clue in four samples that could indicate that the specimens are the more transmissible variant.

But the state laboratories will need to do more testing to confirm.

That's why acting state epidemiologist Sarah Kemble says now is not the time to ease up on mitigation efforts.

"I think we're at a really critical juncture right now. I'm really pleased to see our seven-day average appear to be stabilized and maybe even on the decline," Kemble said.

"I will cautiously say, and that in spite of an uptick over with travel over the holidays. So I realy want to hold steady in that place while we get more vaccine out before we make any major moves and changes to mitigation guidance."

Kemble says if the new variant were to spread in Hawaii, the amount needed for her immunity would go from 70% to 80 or 90% because it is so much more transmissible. She says that's why getting people vacinated will be more important than ever.

Seven Longs Drugs locations will start giving doses to those who qualify -- kupuna 75 and older and essential workers -- starting next week.

The state expects to know whether the four samples are the more transmissible UK variant of the coronavirus by Friday.

-- HPR's Ashley Mizuo

Where we stand

The state Department of Health reported 74 new cases and four new fatalities on Wednesday.

According to the state's numbers, Oʻahu had 41, Maui 23, Hawaiʻi Island 4, and Kauaʻi, Lanai and Molokaʻi had no new cases. 6 resident was diagnosed out of state.

The latest state count brings the Oʻahu total to 21,062, Hawaiʻi County 2,177, Maui 1,793, Kauaʻi 179, Lanai 107, and Molokaʻi 25. The number of out-of-state cases totals 738.

Since the pandemic began, the state has tallied 26,081 cases. The death toll stands at 414.

Honolulu councilmember advises city directors to be more proactive

Budget concerns are stretching beyond the state legislature, and into affordable housing programs on Oahu.

On Tuesday, members of the Honolulu City Council's committee on housing and the economy were briefed on the city's efforts in promoting and managing affordable housing on the island.

Directors outlined their budgets to committee members, and told them they are monitoring bills at the legislature that could impact housing programs and other efforts.

But council member Calvin Say advised the administration to be more proactive.

"It's nice that you've got copies of the legislative bills, that you folks are digesting, that may affect the County. I think we should be working hand in hand -- in tandem," Say said.

"And the only reason why, if this is going to affect the County of Oahu, you better have at least somebody from the legislative branch of the Council to testify in opposition. Don't tell me in April, when it's too late. They're going to finish by the first week of May."

Say highlighted his concerns the state is going to make "tremendous" cuts to the counties -- with an anticipated reduction in the general excise and transient accommodations tax.

He advised the adminitsration to give frequent updates to housing chair Esther Kiaʻaina, so she can testify on behalf of the city council.

-- HPR's Casey Harlow

Honolulu Prosecutor: 'Crime is Down'

The State Judiciary is sponsoring a series of webinars aimed at understanding how to achieve racial equity in Hawaii.

One recent session focused on data as essential to recognizing inequity. 

Honolulu's new prosecuting attorney Steve Alm stressed the need to anchor crime fighting with accurate data.

"If you ask the average person the street, I guarantee you they'll say crime is up," Alm said. "And that's because if it bleeds it leads in the news."

"When I was running for office, my opponent was trying to sell this business that crime was up. Well, here are the stats. These are incidents repoted to HPD. In July 2019, there were 4,353 crimes reported offenses. In June 2020, it dropped to 3,000. That's like a thirty-some percent drop in crime."

Alm says the pandemic may have contributed to the lower number of crimes -- citing people being home more and businesses closed due to emergency orders.

But he says that doesn't necessarily mean crime is equally down across the island.

Alm cited statistics going through June of last year, and he says has cautioned HPD that he does expect the crime rate to rise. He says part of that increase may be a return to pre-COVID levels once people resume more everyday activities.

-- HPR's Noe Tanigawa