State Takes Steps to Help Hawai‘i Residents amid COVID-19 Pandemic

March 25, 2020, 7:14 PM HST (Updated March 25, 2020, 7:14 PM)
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With the first day of the statewide stay-at-home order in the books, Gov. David Ige emphasized the importance of compliance in combatting the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m fully aware of how this mandate is a challenge and burden for everyone across Hawai‘i,” Ige said during a Facebook-streamed press conference Wednesday afternoon. “This is the only way we’re going to slow down the spread of COVID-19 in Hawai‘i.”

Hawai‘i Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson announced that to date, 4,658 COVID-19 samples have been completed at private and state labs. Of that total, there are 95 positive cases. Only four are currently hospitalized. The DOH is still investigating many of the cases and expect to get more information.

Anderson said all the positive cases have a history of travel or have been exposed to someone who has traveled. There has been no evidence of widespread community transmission.

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Anderson advised anyone who thinks they need to be tested should go to their physicians as they can advise a personal recommendation and order the test if needed.

“People need to recognize this is a serious situation,” Anderson said. “I’m almost certain that we’ll have a much more serious problem than we have today.”

The only way to stop the spread into the community, Anderson said, is to practice social distancing now.

During the press conference, other agencies announced their efforts to provide relief to Hawai‘i residents during this unprecedented time of global shutdown.

William Aila, chairman of the Hawaiian Homes Commission, said they will be postponing mortgages from their direct loan program for six months. He urged homeowners to contact their lenders.

University of Hawai‘i President David Lassner said the institution is extending its admissions deadline to their three campuses till Aug. 1.

“We found that many parents and students are thinking about staying home for college, and you really can’t beat the opportunities across the UH system,” Lassner said.

Additionally, Pankaj Bhanot, director of the Department of Human Services, announced they are taking aggressive action to maintain essential services be continually provided for Hawai‘i residents. While many of the offices will be closed, services will continue uninterrupted with staff working from their office or remotely from home.

Bhanot said they are modifying their operations in an effort to “protect the health and safety of everyone, especially vulnerable individuals and providers.”

SNAP benefits will continue. EBT cards will be mailed to the address provided on the application.

All DHS homeless offices and services will remain open for business. DHS is also in contact with the domestic violence shelters.

“The health and safety of families and staff are priority,” Bhanot said. “Child Welfare Services and Adult Protective Community Services Branch will continue to respond to reports of any instances of abuse, neglect, harm or exploitation.”

The houseless population is also being considered and agencies continue to find ways to support those individuals by opening public restrooms and providing wrap-around services.

Anderson said the policies now are to try to keep homeless from dispersing into other areas.

“We want to assure that those who don’t have housing have a place to go,” he said.

The visitor industry is looking at vacant hotels to use as housing for the homeless or an extension for hospital beds.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.
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