Hawaii’s battle with COVID-19 continued to rage Friday as 233 more cases were added to the state’s escalating virus count and there was more troubling evidence about the devastating effect the pandemic is imposing on the islands.
A survey of 464 Hawaii businesses released Friday by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization found few gains in jobs since the initial decline caused by government mandates that shut down the economy in March.
With the exception of jobs in information technology and other services, no industry saw a meaningful increase since UHERO’s last survey in April, according to a report on the latest survey conducted in late July.
Most industries plateaued or continued to jettison jobs, with significant declines in education services, arts and entertainment and manufacturing, the survey found.
Business on the neighbor islands, with their strong reliance on tourism, continue to be hardest hit, with Maui County at the top of the list.
“Many businesses appear to be hanging on, but just barely,” Philip Garboden and Isabelle Picciotto wrote in the survey’s report. “All but a quarter of businesses have needed to make staff cuts and other reductions, and roughly a third anticipate deeper cuts in the months to come. Depending on when the pandemic is brought under control and when the tourist economy can safely reopen, our data suggest that between 6% and 15% of businesses may need to close permanently.”
With COVID-19 surging over the past couple of weeks, Gov. David Ige said Thursday that he’s considering re-imposing a stay-at-order and delaying the proposed relaunch of tourism through a pre-travel testing program that is set to begin Sept. 1.
The daily new-case count in the islands hit triple digits for the first time in late July, and has remained there for much of August. On Thursday, the daily count reached a record 355, including significant clusters at Oahu Community Correctional Center and the Institute for Human Services’ men’s homeless shelter in Iwilei.
Although the state’s death toll remained at 40, Lt. Gov. Josh Green warned Friday that there could be an estimated 27 additional fatalities in the coming weeks under the current rate of hospitalization.
Meanwhile, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell defended the city’s actions in dealing with the homeless population Friday after being criticized by dozens of organizations the day before.
More than 70 organizations and individuals, including the ACLU of Hawaii and the lieutenant governor, released a statement Thursday calling for a halt to sweeps of homeless people and criticizing the city for continuing to issue citations and arrests for people in parks and beaches, even if they have nowhere else to go.
“It is cruel, legally questionable and a threat to public health and safety,” the ACLU posted on its Facebook page.
In his response, Caldwell said the city initially suspended all enforcement actions at the beginning of the pandemic, in accord with national health guidance, but that changed after setting up the Provisional Outdoor Screening and Triage center for homeless people at Keehi Lagoon Park.
“We agree living on the street in unsanitary conditions is not safe at any time, especially in a pandemic. This is why we made the Punawai Rest Stop a 24/7 operation and we partnered with the state Department of Health to open the Temporary Quarantine and Isolation Center in Ka‘a‘ahi, in addition to the POST sites,” Caldwell said.
“We are also working to expand options to accommodate all community members, including those who are homeless, who require quarantine and isolation facilities and support,” he said.
In addition, those arrested for emergency order violations are not placed in prison, the mayor said, but booked and released pending trial.
In other COVID-19 developments:
>> 38 additional OCCC inmates tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of inmates diagnosed with the virus to 124. A total of 23 staff members already had tested positive. Testing of all OCCC inmates in each of the 19 individual housing units is ongoing.
>> The City and County of Honolulu said an employee in the managing director’s office tested positive and is in isolation. All employees in the office were interviewed and no one was found to have significant exposure to the positive individual, so no one was being quarantined. Honolulu Hale will remain closed to the public following several positive cases that turned up at the city hall grounds.
>> The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency is conducting a survey to determine what residents see as the most important issues the state is facing during the pandemic. One adult per household is asked to fill out the survey, which takes about 10 minutes to complete. To fill out the survey, go to: go.hawaii.edu/3P6.
>> Hawaii National Guard members have been stepping in to support the DOH with contact mapping at the Hawai‘i Convention Center. A total of 21 guardsmen are assisting on Oahu alone.
>> A total of 1,943 people arrived in Hawaii on Thursday, including 502 visitors and 586 returning residents. There was a total of 34 arriving flights.
>> A Kamehameha Schools employee based at Kawaiaha‘o Plaza in Honolulu tested positive. According to the school, the employee was working remotely and is in isolation, and no other school staff, students or sites were exposed to this employee.
As of Friday, 2,747 infections were known to be active cases in Hawaii, officials said. With 233 positive cases out of 2,649 new tests, the positivity rate was about 8.9%.