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Hawaii grads celebrate milestone as coronavirus cases stay low

  • Video by Jamm Aquino / jaquino@staradvertiser.com

    Kaimuki High School seniors received their diplomas Saturday at the school's drive-thru commencement ceremony.

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                The Kaimuki High School Class of 2020 drive-thru commencement ceremony was held on Saturday. Graduates returned to their families’ vehicles after picking up their diplomas at the school.

    JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    The Kaimuki High School Class of 2020 drive-thru commencement ceremony was held on Saturday. Graduates returned to their families’ vehicles after picking up their diplomas at the school.

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Praise Gomes blew kisses to her waiting family after graduating from Kaimuki High School on Saturday.

    JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Praise Gomes blew kisses to her waiting family after graduating from Kaimuki High School on Saturday.

  • JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Kaylee Kalamau received her diploma.

    JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Kaylee Kalamau received her diploma.

Aleeyah Lemons, her two sisters, her mom and her grandmother rode away from Kaimuki High School in a car decorated with balloons, congratulatory messages, yellow flowers and a green lei, along with a picture of the new alumna attached to the rear door.

In normal times, Kaimuki graduates would be walking in a ceremony at the Waikiki Shell and receiving lei and hugs from friends and family.

Instead, Kaimuki was one of the more than 30 public and charter schools in Hawaii that switched to a drive-thru diploma cover pickup. Along with the drive-thru, Kaimuki is holding a virtual graduation ceremony, including speeches and images from the drive-thru, that will air on ‘Olelo on May 30.

Lemons said seeing her teachers again as they greeted her in the ceremony and receiving gifts and lei from them made up for the changes during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I grew a bond with (my teachers),” she said. “It really was special for them to come out. What they’ve done was really sweet. Maybe it was better than actually walking. It felt more personal.”

Several of the roughly 140 Kaimuki graduates said they appreciated the event, and the circumstances surrounding the coronavirus didn’t dampen their enthusiasm.

>> Click here to see photos of Kaimuki graduates receiving their diplomas.

“I don’t care. This virus is not going to get us (down),” said Lisa Militante, who drove through for her granddaughter Erica Salsedo. “Everybody’s plans change no matter what they are, big and small.”

Militante and her daughter Maryjayne Salsedo cried as the school’s alma mater — sung and recorded by the school’s security team — blared before an arch of balloons in the school’s colors of kelly green and gold.

Salsedo and other parents waited in the drive-thru line as graduates stepped inside the auditorium to take a photo with school principal Jamie Dela Cruz and pick up their diploma covers and other gifts.

Militante said Salsedo saw her sister graduate last year and the family had played up the graduation ceremony to keep her motivated in school before the coronavirus outbreak.

“It feels great,” the younger Salsedo said after coming out in her yellow cap and gown, adding that she appreciated the school held the ceremony for graduates. “Hard work pays off.”

About 11,000 seniors in Hawaii public and charter schools are graduating or already graduated this month.

Cases remain low

Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus cases continued to remain flat in Hawaii, with only one new case — on Maui — reported Saturday. There are 643 cases in Hawaii, with only single-digit daily increases since April 18. About 13% of people who tested positive for the disease in Hawaii have required hospitalization. Seventeen have died.

Kauai has no known active cases, and hasn’t had a new case in more than a month.

With cases low, Hawaii has slowly started reopening. Kauai officials reopened churches, outdoor tour activities, and salons and barbershops on Friday. Maui County is allowing barbershops, hair salons and nail salons to reopen Monday.

On Saturday, Hawaii island Mayor Harry Kim OK’d reopening places of worship, hair salons and restaurants on June 1. Kim’s order did not include the reopening of bars and nightclubs.

Also Saturday, the Hawaii Tourism Authority reported 248 visitors arrived in Hawaii on Friday, down from the 363 visitors that came on Thursday. Visitors made up 27% of Friday’s 924 incoming passengers.

A quarantine for out-of-state passengers has been in place since March 26 and was extended to interisland flights on April 1. The quarantines are set to run through June 30.

The state issued a warning that visitors and residents should keep up their guard over the Memorial Day weekend. Many of the state’s beaches, parks, trails and other outside spaces are now open. But health officials and state leaders are urging those who visit them to maintain social distancing, wear masks while around others, and continue to wash their hands frequently.

Breaking quarantine

From April 6 through Friday evening, the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii has used HTA’s COVID-19 Flight Assistance Program to help return 54 incoming passengers to their homes after they were caught failing to comply with the emergency directive.

VASH sent Naomi Hall, a 20-year-old from Henderson, Texas, home Friday night. Jessica Lani Rich, VASH president and CEO, said Hall arrived in Hawaii on Thursday with no money and without a place to complete her quarantine. Rich said Hall was given the choice to go back home or go to jail and initially chose jail, but later changed her mind.

“She didn’t believe that she would get arrested. She spent the night in jail. After she was charged, I was contacted by the Attorney General’s Office to help her get back home,” Rich said. “In this case it was really good that we caught her. It’s dangerous for a 20-year-old out on the streets without money or plans.”

Rich said she fears the Memorial Day weekend will bring additional visitors, “who shouldn’t be coming to Hawaii now.”

“We still don’t know why we are getting so many visitors when there’s been a lot of publicity not to come,” Rich said.

Social media posts led to the Friday arrests of Artyon Zhiryada, a 20-year-old from Happy Valley, Ore., and Dan Vlasenko, a 19-year-old from Vancouver, Wash., as they were leaving a Lewers Street condo.

They arrived in Honolulu on May 16 and immediately broke the quarantine rule by visiting sites around Oahu, and showing off “their escapades by posting their adventures on social media sites,” a news release from the state’s COVID-19 Joint Information Center said.

Zhiryada faces an additional charge of cruelty to animals for allegedly posting a video of himself shooting a feral chicken with a spear gun in Waikiki.

Investigators charged both men with violating the 14-day quarantine mandate. Zhiryada’s bail was set at $4,500 and Vlasenko’s bail was set at $4,000.

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