The Latest: City Council Chair Leaving; 3 Deaths, 100 New Cases; Oahu Lockdown Extended

Sep 9, 2020

Updated: 9/9/2020, 4:50 p.m.

Honolulu Council Chair Ikaika Anderson says he’ll be resigning from his seat later this month, citing family reasons. Anderson made the unexpected announcement today at the end of a special City Council meeting.

"As anyone who knows me knows I was raised by my grandparents. They’re both in their 80s at this time. And I share errand duties for them and driving duties for them with my mom and my stepfather," he said. "And as such, I’ve arrived at the difficult decision, members, to announce my resignation from the Honolulu City Council, effective September 23, at the adjournment of the 10 o’clock a.m. Honolulu City Council meeting.

"To close up business for my office, members, I humbly ask that you please appoint my chief of staff Andrew Malahoff to finish my term."

Anderson has represented Windward Oahu for eight years – and would have termed out at the end of December.

Esther Kia’aina and Greg Thielen are running for Anderson’s council seat in the November general election.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

 

Where we stand

Hawaii recorded three more COVID-19 deaths today and 100 cases of new infections. The latest daily counts bring the state death toll to 91 and the total number of cases to 10,123.

There have now been 9,146 cases on Oahu, 533 on Hawaii Island, 360 for Maui County, and 58 on Kauai. 

Yesterday's two deaths were an Oahu man, 60 to 69 years old, and a Maui woman, older than 80. Both had been hospitalized and one was a nursing home resident.  

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said yesterday's 66 new cases was good news and that the curve is beginning to flatten. Hospitalizations are also trending downward, he said, with those hospitalized now at 250 from highs of about 300.

"So, people, we're doing real well, but the fatalities are still a concern," Green said in his daily Instagram update. "This is a critical time."

10th death recorded at Hilo state veterans home

There has been an tenth death at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo, according to Hawaii Island Mayor Harry Kim speaking today on HPR's Conversation.

As of yesterday, the facility has had 59 residents and 20 employees test positive for COVID-19, according to Avalon Health Care that operates the nursing home reported. Three residents are hospitalized at Hilo Medical Center and 33 are being cared for in the nursing home's COVID-designated area.

Over the weekend, Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz called for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to step into the crisis at the veterans home to bring the COVID cases under control.

“It is increasingly clear to me that the state home is understaffed and ill-equipped to stop this outbreak on its own,” Schatz said in a statement.

Allison Griffiths, a veterans home spokeswoman, said she's been in touch with Schatz and welcomes any federal assistance. But she disagreed with his description of the facility as understaffed and ill-equipped.

Schatz also chastized the state and county for failing to act urgently to address what he described as a public emergency. HPR has asked the state and county for a response but has yet to hear from officials.

According to Hawaii News Now, the state emergency management agency plans to do an assessment of the outbreak at the state veterans home and that the Premier Medical Group Hawaii plans several rounds of testing at the facility and isolation of residents to help address the emergency.

Avalon Health Care says it expects more confirmed infections following a cluster of three or more staff or residents who have new respiratory symptoms in the last 72 hours.

The. company now says it believes the virus came into the facility in two ways: one through a worker who was asymptomatic and was exposed in the community. The second was possibly through a resident who was exposed at an outside dialysis appointment.

The surge in COVID cases has been stressing the capacity of hospitals statewide. A lack of sufficient numbers of health care personnel, especially nurses, remains a major concern.

Surge testing continues at various Oahu locations this week. Participants can walk-up or register at doineedacovid19test.com. See the website for details on where and when the testing sites are scheduled.

Among the latest COVID-19 developments:

• A disturbance yesterday at the Hawaii Conmunity Correctional Center was contained after inmates set a fire in a wing of the housing module and barricaded doors at about 3:45 p.m. Fire department personnel, Hawaii Island police and state sheriffs were called to assist, a Department of Public Safety spokeswoman said by email. Correctional officers used "non-lethal means to subdue inmates, gain compliance and bring order back to the housing unit by 5:30 p.m." Twenty-five inmates in the housing wing will be questioned to find out the reason for the unrest and who was involved.

The episode occurred on the same day that the governor appointed Hawaii Paroling Authority Chair Edmund "Fred" Hyun to serve as special master and assess the department "top-to-bottom." He would recommend needed changes to improve the agency's efficiency, working with Acting Director Maria Cook.

The appointment follows the departure of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda, who is on leave this month and scheduled to retire in October. Espinda came under severe criticism for his handling of the COVID-19 outbreak at the Oahu Community Correctional Center.

There were no new positive test results at OCCC yesterday, according to the spokeswoman. So far, there have been 291 inmates, 18 active, and 80 staff, 40 active, who have tested positive for COVID-19.

• Two more TheBus operators have tested positive for the coronavirus, the operator of the bus and handivan system said yesterday. The Oahu Transit Services Inc. said the first operator was tested on Aug. 30 and on sick leave since Aug. 31. The operator last worked on Aug. 28. The worker did not show symptoms on that day. The operator drove on TheBus #856, Route 60 (Turtle Bay-Weed Circle) from 4:08 a.m. to 4:38 a.m.; Route 52 (Wahiawa Transit-Ala Moaa) from 5:04 a.m. to 6:24 a.m.; and Route 52 (Honolulu-Mililani-Haleiwa) from 6:38 a.m. to 10:51 a.m.

The second operator tested positive yesterday after feeling sick after work on Sept. 4. He was placed on sick leave the next day and got tested on Sept. 7. The driver had no close contact with riders or employees, according to OTS. On Sept. 4, the operator drove TheBus #525 on Route 7 (Kalihi Valley) from 4:44 a.m. to 2:13 p.m.; TheBus #307 on Route 103 (Paiwa-Waikele Express) from 6:05 a.m. to 6:46 a.m.; TheBus #47, Route 672 (Kailua-Maunawili) from 10:40 a.m. to 1:13 p.m.; Route 673 (Kailua-Enchanted Lake) from 1:40 p.m. to 2:15 p.m.; Route 671 (Kailua-Lanikai) from 2:40 p.m. to 3:10 p.m.; Route 673 (Kailua Enchanted Lake) from 3:18 p.m. to 3:57 p.m.; Route 674 (Kailua-Aikahi) from 4:10 p.m. to 4:34 p.m.; Route 671 (Kailua-Lanikai) from 4:40 p.m. to 5:10 p.m.

Oahu lockdown extended for two more weeks

Honolulu’s “stay-at-home, work-from-home” order has been extended for two more weeks, but with some changes. Social gatherings and non-essential travel and activities are still prohibited, but Oahu beaches, parks and trails are reopened for "solo activity," Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced yesterday.

"That means individuals can go into the park, to sit down, to read, to meditate, eat lunch. Sit on a beach and get a suntan. Go on a hike and do everything else – run, jog, walk. Community gardens will be open for individual gardening in your plot. All of these things will be allowed," Caldwell said.

"In order to allow people to access these activities, or do these activities, the parking lots will be opened for the sole purpose of solo activity."

The prohibition against groups includes households. So a parent cannot take a child to the park, for example.

The solo activity will be easier to enforce, Caldwell explained. The maximum penalty for violation of the stay-at-home order remains the same: up to $5,000 in fines and a year in jail.

Some business interests were not happy with the decision to keep the lockdown in place.

"Today’s announced extension brings businesses closer to permanent closure," said President and CEO Sherry Menor-McNamara of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii in a statement yesterday. "The decisions made in the next two weeks will determine the future of Hawaii’s local businesses and our economy."

The chamber called for "parity for local businesses who can operate low-risk pick-up or delivery services" and said industry leaders stand ready to help in creating the reopening plans.

--HPR's Casey Harlow

$50M in rental assistance available from CARES Act funds

Hawaii residents who are unemployed because of COVID-19 can now apply for rental assistance under a new program that pays landlords directly.

The state program's first phase uses $50 million in federal CARES Act funds to help those unable to pay their rent or back rent.

Denise Iseri-Matsubara with the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp. explained who’s eligible.

“If you're unemployed or partially unemployed due to the pandemic, and your household income is at or below 100% of the area median income, then you may qualify for financial assistance under this program.

"It's not a grant or a loan. It's a payment to help those at risk of eviction through no fault of their own, with rent payments of up to $2,000 per month on Oahu and $1,500 per month on the Neighbor Islands...Payments will be made directly to landlords through our nonprofit partners, and can be made in lump sum amounts for up to three months at a time.”

The eligibility income limits vary from island to island. For a family of four on Hawaii Island, that’s below about $83,000. For Oahu, it's below about $126,000.

Aloha United Way and Catholic Charities of Hawaii are administering the program.

Those interested in applying for the rental help can reach AUW by calling 211 or Catholic Charities at 521-HELP or 521-4357.

More information on the program is available on the State Rent Relief & Housing Assistance Program website

--HPR's Sandee Oshiro

Ige: next reopening to be better planned

Gov. David Ige says the state has learned some lessons since the first reopening led to a surge in COVID-19 cases. Ige hopes to have better plans in place when the state reopens next time around.

"There were some in our community who felt that we may have reopened too many activities too quickly. We are looking at reopening plans in other areas," the governor said yesterday. "I know both the mayor [Kirk Caldwell] and I have looked very closely at the program that Gov. Gavin Newsom in California had announced recently. We have looked at a couple others, Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo’s program in New York. We are looking at those and seeing what and how they're doing things differently. They all have had more specific metrics."

Some of the measures under review are the average number of new cases a week and rates of positive tests, Ige said.

He also said it’ll be his priority to create clear guidelines to help businesses operate more safely when they open up.

He plans a more conservative reopening because he says Hawaii is so isolated; it doesn’t have neighboring states for support if hospitals become overrun.

Talks about the reopening with the governor, mayors and others from the community resume today.

Among other topics, the governor will discuss a proposal from the state Senate COVID-19 response committee for a pilot program on pre-testing for Neighbor Island travel.

A pre-flight testing program is being developed by the state for trans-Pacific travelers that is set for launch on Oct. 1. Ige has not announced if he plans to stick with that date or push it again. The program was originally scheduled for Aug. 1 and then Sept. 1 before those dates were delayed because of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

--HPR's Ashley Mizuo

This is a developing story. Please check back for upates. Editor's note: We’d like to hear how you’re coping with the latest COVID-19 developments and the state's phased reopening. You can call our talkback line at 808-792-8217. Or e-mail us at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.