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As the number of Hawaii’s coronavirus cases hit 10, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell on Monday ordered the shuttering of indoor city facilities, banned events of more than 50 people on city property and urged private businesses to follow suit.
“It’s not business as usual anymore,” Caldwell said. “Don’t come out of your homes if you don’t have to.”
Effective tomorrow through April 30, a vast array of city-run activities are canceled: Royal Hawaiian Band performances, Blaisdell Center concerts, Easter egg hunts, swim meets, archery tournaments, Lei Day events, People’s Open Markets and more.
While outdoor areas like the Honolulu Zoo and beach parks will remain open, the mayor ordered the closure of Hanauma Bay, which requires visitors to sit indoors and watch an environmental video before entering. Honolulu Hale and other buildings housing city employees will remain open.
Caldwell’s announcement came as Gov. David Ige extended a state of emergency throughout Hawaii through mid-May and announced new state measures to contain the spread of coronavirus. That includes preparation for the deployment of the Hawaii National Guard if necessary and increasing the number of testing sites for those who believe they have become infected with the virus.
Caldwell also announced that should COVID-19 hit Oahu’s homeless population, those who test positive will be quarantined at a city-owned facility at 524 Kaaahi Street which has 26 units of two beds each. The location is slated to become the new home of the Sand Island addiction treatment center, a move that is now on hold.
The city will pay for the facility and its utilities, and the state will pay for wraparound services, according to Caldwell. Meanwhile, the city will continue its practice of homeless sweeps – what the mayor calls “compassionate disruption” – or forcing homeless encampments out of public areas.
City buses will continue to run, but riders are asked to engage in “social distancing” by sitting or standing as far from others as possible, Caldwell said. Essential services like trash pickup will continue, he said.
“We’re going to try to make sure the city functions on a normal basis as much as possible,” Caldwell said.
The mayor said he anticipates city revenue to remain stable, and he is not planning to lay off any city staff. On Monday, Honolulu City Council members discussed a measure that would allow Caldwell to tap into rainy day funds during a public health emergency.
They added language to the bill prohibiting the so-called “fiscal stability funds” from being used on the rail project. They also added a requirement that the administration report rainy day fund expenditures to the council within 30 days. The council is scheduled to take action on Bill 35 at its Wednesday meeting, which officials said would occur as planned.
While other cities are prohibiting dine-in services in bars and restaurant, Caldwell said he doesn’t have the authority to do that.
“That’s a state function,” he said.
If conditions worsen, he said he might be able to use his police powers to shut businesses down, but he hopes the private sector takes voluntary steps to protect its customers and employees.
The mayor noted the city is following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which as recently as Sunday advised against gatherings of 50 people or more. On Monday however, President Donald Trump recommended avoiding gatherings of 10 people or more, and that guidance appeared on the CDC website Monday evening.
Meanwhile, Ige acknowledged that Hawaii is “starting to see the edge of community spread in the islands” and announced several new actions by the state aimed at preventing or slowing the spread of the virus in the islands.
News outlets including Hawaii News Now earlier Monday reported that a worker at the Kualoa Ranch on Oahu’s Windward side tested positive for COVID-19. The infected woman had not traveled recently, according to her doctor, which would make that case the first example of community transmission within the state. All the previous cases involved people who had recently traveled outside the islands.
Ige did not share further details about the case involving the Kualoa Ranch employee.
The private health sector has helped to open about 40 testing centers across the state to ramp up the availability of screening people for COVID-19.
There are 27 screening sites on Oahu, four on Kauai, six across Maui County, and five on Hawaii Island. Patients may get a swab from the back of their nose and throat and receive a diagnostic confirmation within three to four days, according to Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.
“Access to testing has been an issue of concern in our community,” Ige said. “We are committed to providing testing for COVID-19 to all of those who are appropriate candidates for testing.”
The expansion of state emergency authority also addresses financial concerns surrounding the coronavirus. For those who lose their job because of it, the state will waive the one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance, Ige said.
The governor also encouraged Hawaii residents to speak up and call the Office of Consumer Protection if they witness price gouging by businesses.
Government agencies were asked Monday to transition from in-person meetings to online operations.
In order to prevent hoarding of supplies, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency will oversee any licensing, rationing of the storage, transportation, use, and distribution of supplies, accommodations and facilities as they relate to emergency coronavirus response.
Kenneth Hara, who holds dual roles as the director of Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Defense Adjutant General for the State of Hawaii, said Hawaii will adopt response frameworks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We need to act at the pace of an unprecedented crisis, and we need to make assumptions that we have widespread community spread of COVID-19,” Hara said.
“We have 24 hours to come up with a comprehensive plan if we do need to quarantine certain neighborhoods, or best case monitor and mitigate the spread hoping there’s no huge case clusters.”
The latest three COVID-19 cases documented in Hawaii Monday included two Oahu residents and a visitor to Maui, DOH reported.
One of the patients confirmed Monday is a health care worker at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children. The person fell ill after traveling to the mainland, Hawaii Pacific Health President and CEO Ray Vara confirmed.
The Kapiolani employee did not have any “direct patient contact,” Vara said in a statement, and the Department of Health is contacting any people the hospital worker may have interacted with while he or she recovers at home in self-quarantine.
“We are following CDC protocols and procedures and taking every precaution necessary to ensure the health and safety of our patients, visitors and staff,” Vara said.
It’s a critical time for our community as we all try to navigate unprecedented disruptions to our daily lives.
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