Updated: 10/19/2020, 12:09 p.m. The Hawaii Department of Health today reported no deaths and 39 new COVID-19 cases, among the best daily counts the state has recorded in recent weeks.
Oahu had 31 new cases followed by 7 on Hawaii Island, 1 on Kauai and none in Maui County. The latest count brings the total number of COVID cases during the pandemic to 14,068. The death toll stood at 187.
Oahu has now had 12,494 cases, Hawaii Island 1,059, Maui County 411 in and Kauai 60. Forty-four cases were diagnosed out of state. Two Oahu cases were removed from the counts due to updated information. One Kauai case was recategorized as diagnosed out of state.
Trans-Pacific arrivals numbering about 8,000 daily
The third day of the state's Safe Travels pre-test program saw another 8,000 trans-Pacific passengers arrive in the state. The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported 8,300 trans-Pacific arrivals on Saturday, which followed 7,853 passengers on Friday and 8,224 on Thursday, the first day that the state opened up to tourism with an option to skip the travel quarantine.
Leading up to the state's tourism reopening, about 2,000 passengers were arriving in the state daily.
The tourism authority's numbers do not include interisland passengers so were lower than those released by Lt. Gov. Josh Green's office last week. But both U.S. mainland arrivals and those traveling interisland can apply for the quarantine exemption by taking the pre-flight test from the state's authorized testing partners.
Despite the option to skip the quarantine, hundreds of passengers have opted to self-isolate instead for the required 14 days or the length of their vacation, if that is shorter. Those who arrive without their test results also need to quarantine until they can show they tested negative for COVID-19.
County police and the state Department of the Attorney General are enforcing the quarantine, but the program relies heavily on individual compliance. Violators are subject to a maximum penalty of $5,000 in fines and a year in jail.
Airports, particularly those on the Neighbor Islands, have seen long lines to process the quarantine exemptions and health and contact information. Officials also say the arrival of multiple flights at around the same time is contributing to the congestion.
There is also continuing confusion among travelers because each county has established different rules on second tests after arrival.
More information on the Safe Travels program is available on the state Department of Transportation website.
State submits vaccination plan in the midst of questions about distribution
There’s no approved vaccine for COVID-19 yet, but Hawaii has submitted its draft vaccination plan to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.
States were required by Friday to submit their draft plans on how the vaccine, once available, will be distributed. Officials had only 30 days to turn in their plans, although many questions remain, including about funding of the vaccines and the federal government's role in the distribution.
Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green says while it’s unclear how quickly a vaccine can be developed, the state could start giving it to residents in January, if one is available.
"We're spending quite a lot of energy, making sure we know which populations would be in line to receive vaccinations first," he said.
"It shouldn't come as any surprise that health care workers, first responders and adults over 65 would be in the highest risk category. We also will consider people with underlying health conditions who wish to get vaccinated."
While the at-risk groups would go first, there are others who might follow.
Teachers, for example, could go next as well those in jails or other facilities where people live in close quarters.
Green said if multiple vaccines are released, the state will decide which ones would be best to distribute based on the data.
And because most vaccines being tested require two doses, people would not be allowed to switch between vaccines.
More discussion among government, health care officials and others regarding the vaccine plan are scheduled later this week.
--HPR's Ashley Mizuo
Postal service reassures Hawaii election officials
State election officials aren’t expecting any problems with mail-in ballots as the Nov. 3 general election draws closer.
August had the highest voter turnout for a primary election in state history, with 51% of registered voters casting ballots.
For the general election, officials expect an even higher turnout.
Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago says there shouldn’t be any issues with the U.S. Postal Service despite national concerns about delays.
"They’ve assured us that there should be minimum interruptions or delays – or no interruptions or delays – of the mailing," Nago said. "We did adjust accordingly, and, so far, we didn’t see any of that in Hawaii. Hawaii has always had a very high mail usage in voting.
"So it wasn’t necessarily having to shift gears, more than refining what we’ve always been doing. Just now, it’s every voter gets a ballot in the mail rather than 60% of the voters."
So far, more than 120,000 Hawaii ballots have been returned for a 15% turnout. That will grow as the deadline to submit the ballots approaches.
Election officials advise that voters mail their ballots by Oct. 27 to help ensure they arrive on time.
Nago says voters have until 7 p.m. on Nov. 3 to get their ballots in the hands of county elections offices. Postmarks don’t count.
Voters can check online to see if their ballot has been received by visiting elections.hawaii.gov.
--HPR's Casey Harlow
NOAA predicts wetter than average conditions
Hawaii's annual wet season is here, and while there's hope we'll see enough rain to get us over the current drought, it's too soon to tell.
Kevin Kodama with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gave a press briefing Friday on what's in store for the coming months.
"For the October through April wet season that we just started, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center has stated that we're in a La Niña event and La Niña conditions are expected to persist through spring of next year," Kodama said.
"And in terms of long-range climate models ... the consensus of these models project that there will be a wetter than average conditions across the Hawaiian Islands region through April, at least April of next year.
"So actually, the models on a month-by-month look, models are showing October to start off drier than average and then transition in November and then wetter than average conditions in the large scale starting in December and then continuing through April."
Kodama says there's a higher chance that the drought will ease on the western side of the state, from Kauai to Molokai, and for the windward slopes of Maui and the Big Island.
On the other hand, drought conditions could persist through the wet season, he said, and won't completely go away when the season ends in April.
NOAA nonetheless advises residents to prepare for heavy rains that can cause flooding -- and watch out for thunderstorms that can produce lightning strikes.
--HPR's Sandee Oshiro