State tops 250 total COVID-19 cases

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald Linda Nguyen walks down the sidewalk on Kamehameha Street after getting items Wednesday at Abundant Life Natural Foods in Hilo. Most stores are closed on the street while essential businesses and restaurants remain open.

Wednesday had the largest number of new COVID-19 cases reported in Hawaii over a one-day period, and Gov. David Ige said the pandemic “has turned our community upside down and is forever altering the way that we once lived.”

The state Department of Health said there were 34 new cases statewide as of noon, bringing the statewide total to 258.

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Hawaii County has 18 cases, three of them new, according to the DOH.

The City and County of Honolulu, the state’s largest population center, accounts for the bulk of the cases — 182 — with 25 newly reported.

Maui County has the second-highest number of cases at 26, an increase of one from Tuesday’s total, and Kauai County has 12 cases, none of them new.

There are 18 positive tests that have not been identified by county, five of them newly reported, according to DOH figures.

State Health Director Bruce Anderson said one of the new cases is a minor, and the remainder are adults. Twenty-six are Hawaii residents, one is a visitor and “seven are unknown, pending investigation.”

“The fact that we have as many residents that we do (who are testing positive) and so few visitors reflects the effectiveness of the mandatory quarantine program that’s been imposed,” Anderson said. “We’re seeing far fewer … visitors, including returning residents, coming back to Hawaii at this point in time.”

Anderson said the state’s first COVID-19 fatality, an elderly man who died Monday night in an Oahu hospital, “had recently traveled to Las Vegas, where we know the virus is widespread.”

President Donald Trump on Wednesday granted a major disaster declaration for the state of Hawaii, in effect from Jan. 20 until further notice, triggering the release of federal funds to help communities recover from the pandemic.

“This will make Hawaii eligible for federal funds for a public assistance program and other programs,” Ige said. “The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency is already moving forward on implementation, and should have additional information in the coming days.”

The measure provides direct federal assistance that is 75% of the total cost for emergency repair work and repair of disaster-damaged facilities.

In addition, Mayor Harry Kim issued a third supplementary emergency proclamation Wednesday, which suspends the county’s ban on single-use plastic bags.

The reason for the temporary suspension of the ban is to discourage the introduction of germs or the virus into stores that could be present on personal reusable bags. Stores will continue to use paper bags as a priority while their supplies last.

Stephen Levins, executive director of the Office of Consumer Protection, said tenants unable to pay their rent because they lost their jobs because of the coronavirus outbreak won’t be evicted “if there is no material breach of the lease.” He also noted the Judiciary’s moratorium on hearing landlord-tenant cases until April 30.

“No landlord is going to be able to get you out of the unit while the court has suspended summary possession,” he said.

Levins added the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act — known as the CARES Act — provides for a moratorium until the end of July on evictions of tenants whose landlords have mortgages that are a part of loan programs overseen by the federal government.

“If a tenant is having difficulty paying their rent, what they need to do is have a conversation with the landlord,” Levins said. “The worst thing to do is just bury their head in the sand and ignore the problem.

“Under the circumstances, many landlords would be willing to work with you and try to reach alternative arrangements.”

He also advised tenants who were laid off to ask landlords if the landlord has a federally administered mortgage for the property the tenant is renting.

“If you have any question regarding the landlord-tenant relationship, I would encourage you to contact the Office of Consumer Protection Center at 808-586-2634,” Levins said. “… We have trained investigators who are very familiar with the landlord-tenant code and very familiar with how the proclamation and the federal law and the Judiciary’s orders impact the landlord-tenant (legal relationship).”

State Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Sakahara said on Wednesday, the first day of Ige’s order subjecting those who travel interisland for any purpose deemed nonessential to a 14-day mandatory self-quarantine, the process requiring travelers to fill out a travel declaration document before flying “has been very orderly.”

“People are complying — and it does help that there are very few passengers,” Sakahara said.

He added arrival numbers at Hawaii’s airports are “down more than 98.5%” compared to a year ago, “and it’s anticipated to drop even more now that fewer interisland passengers are going to be flying, as well.”

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Holding up a copy of the interisland declaration form, he noted it can be found by Googling “hdot/coronavirus.” He said the document can be filled out online, printed and brought to the airport by travelers.

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

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