Ige: COVID-19 supplemental emergency proclamation eliminates unemployment insurance waiting period, suspends state Sunshine Law

  • IGE

CORRECTION: A previous version of the story contained an incorrect ending date for the proclamation, which was provided to the Tribune-Herald by the Governor’s Office.

Gov. David Ige said today he’s signed a supplemental emergency proclamation on the COVID-19 coronavirus “to preserve the health, safety and welfare of the people of Hawaii.” The proclamation is effective until May 15.

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He’s also appointed Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, Hawaii adjutant general and director of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, as the COVID-19 incident commander for the state. He said Hara will be working with state Health Director Bruce Anderson.

The state Department of Health said that as of 3:30 p.m. today, there is a total of 10 confirmed or presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in Hawaii. Three new positive results were announced today for two Oahu residents and one visitor on Maui. The Department of Health is monitoring all of these individuals and supervising their isolation as well as the self-quarantine of their family members.

There are no reported cases on the Big Island.

Ige said the proclamation “directs all residents to heed public health guidelines related to stopping the spread of COVID-19, including social distancing measures.” He specifically said that all gatherings of more than 100 should be suspended or canceled.

He also said the state’s open meeting or Sunshine Law “are just not workable” while the state formulates its plan to deal with the highly contagious and potentially deadly virus, so it and applicable administrative rules are suspended.

“We want government to continue to work as much as possible during this time, but the Sunshine Law provision makes it impossible,” Ige said. “The proclamation allows administrative hearings and public meetings to be conducted via remote technology and telecommunication tools.

“All reasonable measures will be taken to ensure public participation that is consistent with the recommendations of social distancing practicing, as advised by the (Centers for Disease Control).”

The state Legislature, which is exempted by statute from the Sunshine Law, announced earlier in the day it is suspending its in-progress 2020 session indefinitely.

In addition, Ige said the proclamation also waives the one-week waiting period for those laid off as a result of COVID-19 to apply to collect unemployment insurance.

“We do know the COVID-19 epidemic impacts our workers all across the state,” he said. “… We know that much of the community will be not working during much of this slowdown.”

Ige also suggested that people “use restraint” while shopping for necessities and to not hoard items such as toilet paper, soap, hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies.

“There has been no interruption of our supply lines,” Ige said. “Matson and all shippers to the islands continue to operate under normal conditions.

“This supplemental proclamation specifically addresses hoarding. And we do know that we can take action if we do believe that it is getting out of hand. I also want to note that under my first emergency proclamation, price gouging is illegal. Sellers may not take unfair advantage of consumers during an emergency or disaster by greatly increasing prices on essential consumer goods.”

He asked for members of the public to call the Office of Consumer Protection if they believe they are encountering price gouging.

Hara, who was dressed in an aloha shirt, said his appointment as incident commander is in is role as director of Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and not as commander of the Hawaii National Guard.

He said his activities will be aligned with “the national response framework” outlined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the wake of the emergency declared by President Donald Trump.

“Yesterday, FEMA provided an incident management assistance team to assist the state emergency operations center,” Hara said. He added that he will work “very closely” with Anderson and the health-care sector.

Ige noted that a case of COVID-19 is confirmed to have been contracted within the community. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported the patient is a “younger tour guide at Kualoa Ranch” in Windward Oahu “with no recent travel history.”

“Most people who have tested positive in Hawaii were exposed outside of the state,” he said. “However, we are starting to see the edge of community spread of the COVID-19 virus here in the islands. We are taking unprecedented actions to protect the vulnerable in our community and ensure that medical resources are available to those who most need them.”

Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said “physicians, hospitals, urgent care centers and community clinics across the state … have been working together on this unprecedented effort.”

“As the governor said, screening sites are for patients who meet screening criteria for COVID-19. And a physician’s order is required to collect a specimen for screening,” Raethel said. “For screening, individuals will be asked: Do you have a fever, cough or hard time breathing? Have you come in contact with anyone who was sick or who has COVID-19? Or have you been in a country or area where there is COVID-19?”

Raethel said those who meet those criteria will be tested and also be “requested to self-isolate until their test results come back, which generally takes three to four days but could take even longer.”

Raethel said the Department of Health website has a list of 42 sites statewide that can screen for COVID-19.

“The list will be updated as additional sites become available,” he added. “This list is fluid as more organizations are working to stand up screening sites.”

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In addition, the state Judiciary said today that Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald issued an order that beginning Tuesday, March 17, and continuing through April 30, with the exception of emergency and time-sensitive matters, in-person court appearances for civil, family, and to the extent possible, criminal matters will be limited.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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