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Lawmakers discuss more crackdowns as Hawaii records its fourth COVID-19 death

                                A man was swabbed for COVID-19 by workers with Premier Medical Group Hawaii at a drive-thru testing site at Waipio Soccer Complex on Saturday.


    A man was swabbed for COVID-19 by workers with Premier Medical Group Hawaii at a drive-thru testing site at Waipio Soccer Complex on Saturday.

The fourth person with the new coronavirus to die in Hawaii was an East Oahu man over 65 years old.

Hawaii health officials Saturday reported his death was among the 32 new cases — two of them involving minors — as Hawaii COVID-19 cases rose to 351.

The state Department of Heath reported that preliminary information shows the fourth coronavirus death was likely not from community spread, “in that the person may have been exposed to someone who had traveled.”

Travel or exposure to travelers was a factor in 12 of the new cases Saturday and in 184 of the cases identified since tracking began on Feb. 28.

But there also have been signs of limited community spread, which was a factor in one of Saturday’s cases and in 20 of Hawaii’s cases to date. Experts still haven’t identified the risk factor in 19 of the cases from Saturday and in 147 of the total cases.

“Recently, we’ve had more cases where there is no travel history. … Clearly, we are moving away from travel-related cases and focusing more now on cases that are locally transmitted,” Bruce Anderson, director of the Department of Health, said last week.

State officials Saturday reported 29 new cases on Oahu, as well as two each in Hawaii, Maui and Kauai counties. Those cases brought the island totals to 266 cases on Oahu, 38 in Maui County, 22 on Hawaii island, and 15 in Kauai County, according to health officials.

Since the start of the Hawaii outbreak, 19 cases have required hospitalizations, with one new case reported Saturday.

The Air Force also confirmed Saturday that an active-duty military member assigned to Pacific Air Forces headquarters in Hawaii tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday.

“This is the first positive case of an active duty airman (in) Hawaii and the Hawaii Department of Health has been notified,” said the 15th Wing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in a statement.

The Hickam airman did not have a recent travel history and had contact with personnel throughout the headquarters building at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, the Air Force said. The airman is in home isolation off base.

Scott Miscovich and his organization, Premier Medical Group Hawaii, screened about 160 people Saturday at a drive-thru coronavirus testing site at Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex.

Similar testing will occur at Kakaako Waterfront Park at Ilalo and Cooke streets from 8 a.m. to noon today.

It was the third weekend Miscovich’s organization has held drive-thru testing in partnership with the city. Miscovich said at each of the past testing sites at least 10 people have tested positive for the virus.

Miscovich said epidemiologists he has conferred with estimate the cases of coronavirus on Oahu are undercounted, with a minimum of 1,000 positive cases and possibly up to 4,000 cases on the island. He said broad-scale testing will help reduce the virus’ spread in the community.

Hawaii’s latest COVID-19 cases come as the state remains under emergency orders, with all residents mandated to stay home except for essential activities until at least April 30.

If people go out in public, state officials have urged that they don masks. Officials are formulating a statewide policy on wearing masks.

“Our hearts go out to the families of the four people whose lives were tragically cut short by this terrible disease,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell in a Facebook post following the announcement. “By staying home, wearing a mask, and keeping our social distance, we can help reduce the number of deaths in Honolulu. We all have to do our part to keep our families, especially our kupuna, safe during this pandemic.”

Anderson said those walking around infected might be unaware that they are carrying coronavirus and cloth masks may block infectious droplets from spreading when they cough, sneeze or, to a lesser degree, speak.

“Protection is maximized when face masks are used consistently and properly to avoid contaminating the hands or face of someone wearing one,” Anderson said.

Hawaii also is asking visitors to follow COVID-19 restrictions. On March 26, Gov. David Ige implemented a statewide mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for all passengers on trans-Pacific flights, which was expanded Wednesday to include interisland flights.

The quarantines and other COVID-19 containment rules have greatly reduced travel demand for Hawaii and eliminated some resident movement. From March 26 to Friday, only 1,370 visitors came into the state on trans-Pacific flights. During the same period last year, more than 240,000 passengers arrived.

On Friday, 628 people arrived in Hawaii, including 94 visitors and 239 residents.

Despite the low passenger numbers, the state wants to add thermal screening to improve protection at its airports. The Hawaii National Guard will be deployed to airports across the state to conduct passenger medical screening and to help with administrative paperwork. Another 162 guardsmen are being called for active duty, bringing the guard’s total active duty force to 292.

But the measures still aren’t enough for some state lawmakers, who want to reduce passenger counts even more, especially halting homeless individuals from coming.

Over the past 10 days, it’s been reported that five homeless people from the mainland arrived in Honolulu, where they put additional strain on an already overtaxed system. Oahu’s two largest homeless shelters already are too crowded to accept new clients.

Linda Chu Takayama, Ige’s chief of staff, said last week that he has directed airport officials to send back anyone who arrives without demonstrating they have a place to stay.

Takayama also said Ige is considering sending President Donald Trump a request to halt all nonessential travel to Hawaii, but noted that the FAA controls air travel and has threatened to hold federal money if the state tries to do this.

Tim Sakahara, state Department of Transportation spokesman, said Saturday that the average annual grant for the federal Airport Improvement Program is $25 million for the HDOT Airports Division. The Passenger Facility Charge is also governed by the FAA and raised $49 million in 2019.

Sen. Kurt Fevella said the state should have DOT shut down the airports now and ask for federal forgiveness later rather than wait for federal approval because “people are dying.”

Star-Advertiser reporters Rob Shikina, William Cole and Dan Nakaso contributed to this story.

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