Amid a growing cluster of COVID-19 cases at City Hall, Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced that Honolulu Hale will shut down to the public effective 4:30 p.m. today, while Council Chairman Ikaika Anderson said Wednesday’s scheduled monthly meeting is being postponed indefinitely.
Caldwell said he knows of at least 10 people in Honolulu Hale itself have tested positive. “Sadly, we do have clusters here at the Hale,” the mayor said.
One of the 11, he said, was an employee from among his own personal office staff of five people.
Caldwell, who showed up at his press conference with his briefcase in hand, said he himself was going home immediately afterward to self-quarantine. He later tested negative.
An additional 38 city employees have tested positive, including 14 Honolulu firefighters as previously announced. Besides the firegihters, the city gave this break down of infections among workers so far: nine each in Budget and Fiscal Services and the Honolulu Police Department; three in the Board of Water Supply; two each in Environmental Services, Parks and Recreation, Honolulu Emergency Services Department, and Department of Community Services; and one each in Design and Construction, Human Resources, Facility Maintenance, the Clerk’s Office, Enterprise Services, and in the Mayor’s Office.
No one from the public will be allowed into City Hall “except for very limited purposes of coming in to make payments that absolutely need to be made.”
The city’s Treasury, Real Property Tax and Purchasing divisions are housed on the ground floor of the building and are frequently visited by the public.
Caldwell also said that nearby Frank Fasi Municipal Building, where a majority of city agencies have offices, will be closed except for those who have urgent, immediate business such as the drop-off of payments and other documents.
The city’s satellite city halls and driver licensing centers will remain open, “but for appointment-only … for critical things like renewing your driver’s license or getting your driver’s test completed.”
About 1,500 employees at the Honolulu Hale complex, including the municipal building, are being offered the chance to be tested today. The testing is not mandatory, Caldwell spokesman Alexander Zannes said.
Caldwell, who had his briefcase with him as he spoke on the building’s front lawn, said he himself has been tested and that he was headed home immediately afterward to quarantine.
“The results should be available by the end of today,” he said.
“We’re asking all city workers to work from home whenever possible … telecommute, stay away from each other, protect yourself and slow down the spread of this virus,” Caldwell said. Nonetheless, he said, “we want to keep the basic functions of government open whenever possible.”
Dr. Scott Miscovich, who is heading the Premiere Medical Group team conducting the testing at city hall, said he expected to test more than 1,000 employees today.
Honolulu Hale was a beehive of public activity last week as people went there to vote or drop off their votes by Saturday’s 7 p.m. primary election deadline.
Miscovich said he supported the city’s decision to leave the building open for voting despite the positive cases. He said he did not believe those members of the public who showed up for voting were exposed to anyone with the coronavirus while there and that he did not think they need to be tested.
He noted that none of the positive cases in the building came from people working in the Elections Division.
Anderson said the Council may hold its meeting on Aug. 20, but that no final decision has been made.
“We can turn this around if we all do our part,” Caldwell said.
The statewide total of coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic through today is 3,638. However, the reproduction rate of the coronavirus in Hawaii — the number of people each newly infected person is spreading to — is the highest in the country, according to Dr. Scott Miscovich, the president and founder of Premier Medical Group Hawaii, who is running COVID testing sites.
On Aug. 3, the city announced an updated order that includes the outdoor and indoor prohibition of social gatherings with more than 10 people.
Watch a replay of the news conference via the video above, or go to Mayor Caldwell’s Facebook page.