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Election, virus may be behind increase in gun permits on Oahu

HONOLULU (AP) — An increase in firearm permits issued and firearms registered this year may be the result of the coronavirus and the upcoming national election, the Honolulu police chief said.

The Honolulu Police Department said there were 10,485 annual firearms permits issued on the island through September, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Thursday.

The figure represented a nearly 40 percent increase from last year, when there were 7,566 permits issued through September.

The department also reported 21,214 firearms were registered through September, up from 18,672 through September of last year, an increase of about 14 percent.

If those rates persist, more than 14,000 firearm permits would be issued and nearly 28,400 firearms would be registered on Oahu by the end of 2020.

Chief Susan Ballard told the Honolulu Police Commission Wednesday that fear resulting from the coronavirus pandemic and reactions to the Nov. 3 election are likely factors.

“It could be because the whole COVID thing is scaring people,” Ballard said. “And then we also see that every time there’s a possibility of a Democratic president, we see a huge increase in people trying to purchase firearms.”

Data from the U.S. Attorney General’s office did not show a spike in firearm registrations when President Barack Obama was first elected in 2008, but there was a general increase throughout Obama’s eight-year tenure.

Firearm registrations tapered off after President Donald Trump’s term began in 2016.

Kainoa Kaku, president and director of the Hawaii Rifle Association, said guns were sought in larger numbers during the initial COVID-19 outbreak because people scrambled for supplies.

“We see this every hurricane season: No one prepares, and suddenly there’s hourlong lines at Costco, and everyone’s scattering to get what are essential things to survive,” Kaku said.

At the outset of the pandemic “there was also a huge interest in purchasing firearms to protect all the things you’re buying to live,” Kaku said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

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65,000 arrive in Hawaii with pre-travel testing

By CALEB JONES

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — Hawaii had more than 65,000 travelers arrive in the islands in the first week of its pre-travel coronavirus testing program, a state effort to get the tourism-based economy moving again amid the pandemic.

State officials said in an email to The Associated Press on Friday that 66,644 people were screened between the Oct. 15 launch and Thursday. Of those visitors — including returning residents, tourists and others — 41,783 tested negative for the coronavirus and were allowed to skip the previously required two weeks of quarantine.

Some people came to Hawaii with the wrong kind of test. The state accepts only negative nucleic acid amplification tests. Other travelers on the same flights chose to come to Hawaii without being tested at all.

More than 7,500 people on the first week’s flights were ordered to quarantine.

On Oahu, police issued about 8,400 warnings and 885 citations for people not wearing masks or other coronavirus-related violations since Oct. 15, the first day of the testing program.

People who can produce a negative test result within 72 hours of their flight to Hawaii are eligible to bypass quarantine.

Test results from one of the state’s “trusted partners” — a group of clinics, pharmacies and airlines — must be uploaded to a government website upon arrival.

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DA BUX gets a $1 million boost

Initiative helps food stamp recipients buy local produce

The Maui News

The state of Hawaii and a hui of private-sector organizations are putting $1 million toward a program that will help food stamp recipients purchase locally produced fruits, vegetables and proteins.

Gov. David Ige announced Monday that the state would match a $500,000 donation from the organizations for the DA BUX Double Up Food Bucks program, which partners with local food retailers to make locally grown products more affordable for residents under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

“DA BUX Double Up Food Bucks is a triple-win solution because it supports local farmers with an increased customer base, low-income families who receive double the purchasing power for healthy, Hawaii-grown produce and our entire community by keeping dollars in the local economy,” Ige said in a news release.

Administrators are seeing a higher number of SNAP recipients as families continue to struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the news release.

“The last thing people living on little to no income during the pandemic should have to worry about is whether they can afford to feed themselves and their families,” said Elvin Padilla Jr., director of food security at the Stupski Foundation, one of the donors. “With DA BUX Double Up Food Bucks, everyone with a SNAP-EBT card can purchase fresh, nutritious Hawaii-grown food to keep themselves and their loved ones nourished.”

The following organizations contributed to the DA BUX program along with the state:

• Stupski Foundation: $200,000.

• Ulupono Initiative: $200,000.

• The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation: $50,000.

• Kamehameha Schools: $25,000.

• Anonymous: $25,000.

Last year the state Legislature passed a law to create the Hawaii Healthy Food Incentive Program that would offer SNAP beneficiaries a dollar-for-dollar match of up to $10 per visit per day to be used exclusively for the purchase of Hawaii-grown fruits and vegetables. Lawmakers appropriated $100,000 to the program ($50,000 each in fiscal years 2020 and 2021), which was matched with philanthropic dollars.

The state Department of Agriculture then worked with The Food Basket, Hawaii island’s food bank, to create the DA BUX program to provide a federal match to the state program. The Food Basket works with the Hawaii Good Food Alliance to administer the program.

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Bar owners sue Honolulu over tiered virus reopening plan

HONOLULU (AP) — Some Honolulu bar owners have filed a lawsuit claiming the city’s tiered system for reopening businesses during the coronavirus pandemic is arbitrary.

Bars and nightclubs on Oahu remain closed under emergency orders to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and bar owners fear the closures could last into 2021, Hawaii News Now reported Wednesday.

Bars have been placed in a high-risk category in the tiered system and are expected to be in the last round of businesses allowed to reopen.

The system requires Oahu’s seven-day average to fall below 20 new coronavirus diagnoses for two consecutive weeks before the city will consider letting bars reopen.

“They’re begging for the opportunity to comply with restrictions,” said attorney James DiPasquale, who represents the owners. “These bars, some of which have been around for 30 years, are forced to close and they may not reopen.”

The plaintiffs include some bars that have closed permanently because of the economic impact resulting from the health restrictions.

The plaintiffs say it’s unfair for restaurants to be allowed to reopen as long as they serve food, despite also selling alcohol as a part of their regular menus.

Representatives of Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Hawaii News Now.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

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Surgeon general to plead not guilty

Adams cited for entering closed park

By CALEB JONES

The Associated Press

HONOLULU — A lawyer for U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Wednesday that his client, who is charged with illegally entering a Oahu public park that was closed because of the coronavirus, will plead not guilty.

The criminal complaint against Adams, who was on Oahu in August helping with surge testing amid a spike in coronavirus cases, says he and two other men were looking at the view and taking pictures at Kualoa Regional Park on the island’s northeastern coast. The rural park offers a view of the famed Mokolii island, also known as Chinaman’s Hat for its cone shape.

Adams did not appear in court or on a video call for the Wednesday hearing, but his attorney, Michael Green, said his client understands the charge and will plead not guilty.

Because the charge is a “full misdemeanor,” the judge said the not guilty plea could not be entered until Adams decided if he would waive his right to a jury trial. Green said Adams would not waive that right.

The judge set an arraignment date of Nov. 2 in circuit court.

Adams told a police officer who cited him that he was visiting Hawaii to work with Gov. David Ige on COVID-19 and didn’t know parks were closed. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell had closed them at the time to try to prevent crowding that could spread the virus.

Violating any of the mayor’s emergency orders is punishable as a misdemeanor, with fines of up to $5,000, up to a year in jail or both.

A few days after the citation, Adams appeared with Caldwell at a news conference announcing a partnership between the city and federal government for surge testing.

“I’m proud of every single one of you who has sacrificed over the past several months,” Adams said at the time. “And to the people who are lapsing a little bit, I want you to understand that a little bit of fun right now can result in shutdowns further on down the road. It’s important that we all do the right things right now, even if we don’t feel we are personally at risk.”

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Honolulu reserves rooms at 2 properties for isolation

HONOLULU (AP) — Honolulu reserved hundreds of rooms at two hotels so Oahu has more space for people to go into coronavirus quarantine.

Officials booked 221 rooms from Oct. 15 to Dec. 30 at the Park Shore Hotel in Waikiki to isolate those who have been exposed to the virus or are required to quarantine after travel.

The Park Shore rooms can be used in phases of 80, 150 or all 221 with five days’ notice to the hotel, a city statement said.

Honolulu also partnered with the state Department of Health to establish a second temporary quarantine center at the Waikiki Beachside, where 46 units were reserved.

The units with on-site parking and laundry will include health services, meals and light housekeeping provided by the health department.

ì”How we control the spread is by isolation and quarantine,” Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said.

About 8,000 people landed in Hawaii on Thursday — the first day travelers could come to the islands without quarantining for two weeks if they could produce a negative coronavirus test.

As tourism comes back, Caldwell said he expects the number of infections to grow.

“We want to prepare for any possible increase in COVID-19 cases and to keep impacts controlled to ensure that the city can support the opening of businesses and the restart of the island economy,î” Caldwell said.

Quarantine facilities also will be available to anyone who can’t isolate at home, including first responders and health care workers.

The hotel rooms are expected to be paid from the city’s share of federal coronavirus recovery funds.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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Rental assistance applications on hold

HILO (AP) — A Hawaii state program providing rental assistance to tenants struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily stopped accepting applications.

The Rent Relief and Housing Assistance Program called a halt to applications after reaching its processing capacity, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Sunday.

The program launched in early September received more than 20,000 applications and overwhelmed Catholic Charities Hawaii and Aloha United Way, which are helping administer the program.

The charities are working out how to manage the current backlog.

“Right now we’re meeting with them daily to figure out how to work through it as quickly as possible,” said Kent Miyasaki, spokesman for the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation.

The program was expected to disburse $100 million in federal coronavirus relief funding through monthly payments to the landlords of tenants struggling to pay rent.

Payouts of $5.8 million are approved although only $2.3 million has been distributed, Miyasaki said.

Oahu households are eligible for monthly payments of up to $2,000, while households on all other islands are eligible for maximum payments of $1,500 until Dec. 28.

The program also expanded to provide support for mortgage payments and rent beginning this month and can backdate payments to March 1.

Problems with the applications have contributed to the processing delay, Miyasaki said.

“I think about 60 percent of the applications have bad information in them,” Miyasaki said.

Other significant causes of the bottleneck include the need to collect proof of hardship from applicants and obtain payment information from landlords.

The Housing Finance and Development Corporation will establish a processing center at the Hawaii Convention Center to speed the process, Miyasaki said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

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Report: Oahu consumer prices are on the rise as result of the pandemic

HONOLULU (AP) — Prices have risen for most goods and services on Oahu since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, a new federal report said.

The latest inflation report issued by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated consumer prices for Honolulu have risen more than the national average this year, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Wednesday.

Honolulu’s consumer price index is up 1.9 percent over 12 months through September compared with 1.4 percent nationally, the bureau said in the report released Tuesday tracking 87 major metropolitan areas.

The Oahu increase was driven largely by the cost of food and beverages, which was up 7.8 percent, the report said.

Honolulu’s food cost increase included a 9.6 percent hike for food at home and 5.2 percent more for food away from home.

Other increases included 1.9 percent for housing, 4.1 percent for education and communication and 4.9 percent for recreation.

Prices decreased for three major necessities in the 12-month period. The price for electricity fell 11.3 percent, gas prices decreased 14.8 percent and the price for apparel decreased 5.0 percent.

A price change for medical care was not calculated.

The bureau said many of its price indexes are based on a smaller sampling, while price indexes for some items were not published because work to collect data through personal visits has been suspended since March. The bureau collected pricing data online or by phone for most goods and services.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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Billionaire helps arrange 1M mask donation to Hawaii island

KAILUA-KONA, (AP) — A billionaire tech entrepreneur with a home on Hawaii island has coordinated a donation of 1 million face masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus there.

Salesforce CEO and founder Marc Benioff helped arrange the estimated $1.9 million donation to Hawaii County Civil Defense, West Hawaii Today reported Sunday.

The donation was made by the University of California at San Francisco, which is home to The Benioff Center for Microbiome Medicine.

Benioff, whose fortune was estimated last year at $6 billion, oversees a $130 billion software empire based in San Francisco.

The masks are expected to be shipped in weekly installments of about 70,000 each for public distribution at COVID-19 testing sites and other venues.

“It’s not to every island, it’s not to every state,” Hawaii County Council Finance Director Deanna Sako said. “It’s to us and we’re very thankful.”

Mayor Harry Kim has said Benioff is a member of his COVID-19 working group.

The philanthropist provided resources, staff and a working plan to make the Big Island a template for getting ahead of the pandemic, Kim said.

Kim said he told Benioff the island’s residents could not afford the effort without his assistance.

“What a gift for the people of Hawaii Island,” Kim said. “I told him how fortunate and how grateful I am that he is part of our team.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.

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State officials are moving forward with new Oahu jail

HONOLULU (AP) — Officials in Hawaii plan to move forward with construction of a new jail on Oahu to deal with continuous inmate overcrowding.

Previous efforts dating to 1964 have not gone this far toward developing a new site for the Oahu Community Correctional Center, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Sunday.

The facility would be built on state land in Halawa. The site currently houses Hawaii’s Animal Quarantine Station, which would move to a smaller part of the property.

A report is expected later this month detailing the proposed cost, size, funding options and number of misdemeanor detainees and other inmates who could be held at the facility.

A 2017 environmental impact statement projected the cost at $65 million.

Democratic Gov. David Ige called the project “a very expensive undertaking,” but said that record low interest rates and an amenable bond market provide an opportunity to construct the replacement jail.

The state Legislature is not expected to be asked for funds or to approve construction bills related to the project in the 2021 session.

The first Oahu Prison was built in 1857 and replaced in 1916 by the Oahu Community Correctional Center at its current site in Kalihi. More structures were added beginning in the 1950s. Calls to address overcrowding with a new jail have increased through the decades.

The design, construction and funding could serve as a template for future jail projects on Kauai, Maui and Hawaii island, Ige said.

“It’s not a modern facility. It doesn’t have the kind of space we need,” Ige said. “We’re under federal scrutiny all of the time because of the overcrowding.”

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered increased urgency to take action on the jail, which has experienced virus outbreaks among prisoners and staff.