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COVID-19 cases rise by 265, with four deaths, as the pandemic keeps spreading in Hawaii

Hawaii saw 265 COVID-19 cases and four deaths Friday as thousands lined up for Oahu’s ongoing federally funded surge testing program.

Daily infection counts in Hawaii have now exceeded the 200 mark for nine of the past 10 days and days with multiple fatalities are growing more common.

Hawaii’s monthlong run of triple-digit daily cases led to the resumption of the stay-at-home lockdown order for Oahu and prompted the federal government to join with state and Honolulu leaders to start the mass testing.

“The surge testing is so important,” Gov. David Ige said Friday. “It will help us to get a better idea of where the virus is and how best to contain it.”

Ed Sniffen, the state Department of Transportation’s deputy director for highways, joined the governor in an online briefing Friday afternoon to provide more details of the unique testing planned for the H-3 freeway.

With other testing sites dogged by traffic jams and other logistical problems, Sniffen said the freeway offers a unique opportunity for the mass testing given its a 5-mile run-up on either side of the tunnel and tunnel offices that can be used as a staging area for testers.

“We thought it was a no-brainer,” he said.

The freeway will be closed on Tuesday and Thursday for testing from 7:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. Test stations would be set up on both the Kaneohe and Halawa sides of the tunnels to provide tests for both the northbound and southbound directions.

The inside lanes of the freeway at the Harano Tunnels will be used to queue vehicles with those waiting for a COVID-19 test, while the outer lanes would be used for emergency access.

Sniffen said traffic is slower than normal during the lockdown, so the Likelike and Pali highways will have plenty of capacity to accommodate commuters between town and the windward side.

Testing sites were busy again on Friday, with nearly 6,600 registrations recorded.

Testing will continue today from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Kalakaua District Gym parking lot, Kalihi Valley District Park, Polynesian Cultural Center, Wahiawa District Park and Mililani District Park.

On Friday, three Oahu residents and one woman from Maui were the latest to die from the virus. Each of them had been hospitalized with underlying conditions.

On Oahu, a man and a woman in their 70s died, while the other Oahu man and the Maui woman were “older than 80.” officials said.

The statewide death toll now stands at 59.

Thursday’s single-day positivity rate — the percent of positives to people tested — was 10%. The Health Department said the rolling seven-day positivity rate was 6.2%, while Johns Hopkins University on Thursday posted Hawaii’s seven-day rate at 8.3%.

In other COVID-19 developments Friday:

>> Nearly 900 health care workers responded to the state’s plea for hospital nursing staff, officials said. On Wednesday, the state and the Healthcare Association of Hawaii announced that the state’s hospitals were seeking nurses, in­cluding recent nursing graduates, because of rising number of COVID-19 hospitalizations. More are encouraged to apply at 808ne.ws/3jClWyD.

>> Special agents arrested Jeffrey Allen Brookes, 52, of Kapolei for breaking quarantine, officials said. Following up on a tip from witnesses, the agents observed Brookes driving to a storage facility, where he was arrested. His bail was set at $2,000. He is the fourth person arrested by agents from the Attorney General’s office this week and the 34th to be arrested for quarantine violations since the start of the pandemic, officials said.

>> The Department of Labor and Industrial Relations announced updated unemployment insurance claims information Thursday, including paying $2,918,251,462 since the onset of the pandemic. “We are still experiencing a significant increase of workers still attached to an employer being fully released from employment,” DLIR Acting Director Anne Eustaquio said in a statement.

>> A software update to the surge testing registration page now allows people to register without an email address. Just enter “none@gmail.com” into the email field to complete the registration. To find out results, call 800-635-8611.

>> The Department of Health’s Food Safety Branch issued its first red placard to a food establishment for violating new COVID-19 rules requiring physical distancing and face masks. DOH said it received a complaint about The Korner Pocket Bar and Grill, located at 81-970 Halekii St., Kealakekua on Hawaii island. A DOH inspector ended up seeing one employee not wearing a face covering and tables closer than 6 feet from each other, and the company received a warning. During a follow-up inspection five days later, a red placard was issued to the company when the inspector found two employees not wearing face coverings in the kitchen. The business was forced to close on Monday but was allowed to reopen the next day after a follow-up inspection, officials said.

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