By Jim Bea Sampaga
Since the beginning of June, COVID-19 cases have been spiking up after a month of having less than 10 active cases per day. Hawaii had its highest single-day record of 73 new COVID-19 cases on July 25. Sixty-eight of those cases are in Oahu while five are on Maui.
According to State Health Director Dr. Bruce Anderson, the recent surges of cases “demonstrate the relaxation of safe practices from the 4th of July, particularly on O‘ahu, may have been one primary reason for these daily new records. We’re beginning to see more cases among younger to middle-aged adults; many who relay stories of attending gatherings, parties, events, or socializing at bars.”
The new cases bring the total number of cases in Hawaii to 1,757 as of July 25. While 1,205 people have been released from isolation, 167 people have been hospitalized. The current death toll from the virus in the state is 26.
The State of Hawaii has issued $2.3 Billion in unemployment insurance benefits since March 1.
“Ninety-two percent of the valid unemployment insurance claims that have come in since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic have been processed and paid out by the DLIR,” said Anne Perreira-Eustaquio, Deputy Director of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.
Currently, the biggest challenge for DLIR is addressing the high level of imposter and regular fraud in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. Fraudsters are using stolen personal information to apply for benefits through the PUA and direct those payments to their own bank accounts.
Through July 14, DLIR has issued almost $36 million to imposter fraud claimants and prevent $125 million of potential benefits being stopped. Around $466 million in benefits has been paid to 93,994 PUA applications. The majority of 44,298 denied PUA claims were denied because of either identity verification issues or due to potential or eligibility for regular unemployment insurance benefits, according to the press release.
COVID-19 Safety Guidelines
The University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) released a COVID-19 safety guidelines reminder last month for all healthcare providers, learners and staff who work in health facilities and JABSOM.
Although the announcement was for people who work or study in the healthcare field, the safety guidelines are very important for the community to learn, practice and adapt especially as the State is preparing to reopen schools, offices and other establishments this upcoming fall.
Practice Safe Habits Outside of Work: The safety precautions you take outside of work will impact your workplace. According to the JABSOM guidelines reminder, most of the July positive cases in Oahu have been tied to social events during Memorial Day and Father’s Day.
Be careful when engaging in social events. It’s better to just avoid going to such events but if you still decide to engage in public activities, make sure to protect yourself by wearing a mask, washing your hands frequently, sanitizing and keeping at least six feet away from the people who live outside your household. Always monitor your health daily for any symptoms.
Eye Protection, Face Masks, Face Shields and Physical Distancing: “Universal masking AND physical distancing are key to minimize exposure,” JABSOM wrote in the safety guidelines reminder. The virus spreads person to person through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or even talks according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Eye protection prevents droplets from touching the opening of your eyes while face masks protect your face especially mouth and nose from inhaling any droplets. Aside from protecting you, wearing a face mask also protects others from your droplets when you cough, sneeze or talk.
Face shields (a sheet of plastic that covers the face) are also a good addition to protect yourself from others. CDC doesn’t recommend the use of face shields as a replacement for face masks. However, wearing a face shield while wearing a face mask is preferred.
When going out, always make sure to practice physical distancing of at least six feet apart from other people. This will ensure that if ever that other person coughs, sneezes or talks, you are safe from their droplets from reaching you.
Cleaning and Sanitizing High-Touch Areas: Always make sure to maintain a clean working space, desk, computer or breakroom by sanitizing and disinfecting these areas. When going out, make sure to wash or sanitize your hands before and after touching doors, handling products or money.
Physical Distancing While Eating: Recently, restaurants and malls are allowed to have a certain number of people dine in their establishments. Make sure that you are at least six feet apart from the person next to you since you can’t wear a mask while eating.
Clean Your Goggles, Face Masks and Face Shields: Cloth face masks are reusable and can be thrown into the washer along with your regular laundry. CDC recommends washing your face masks after each use. Washing your face masks nightly is a good rule of thumb. Make sure each member of your family owns at least five to seven face masks so they easily use them interchangeably. For goggles and face shields, cleaning and disinfecting it every after each use is preferred.
With the recent surges of cases and relaxed safe practices throughout the State, it’s better to be prepared when the State declares another community lockdown.
Food Pantries and Assistance Programs: The Hawai’i Food Bank regularly holds food distributions throughout the islands. Visit the hawaiifoodbank.org to see their Food Drive Day and Drive-through Food Distribution schedules. Residents can also apply for the Hawai’i Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by visiting humanservices.hawaii.gov/bessd/snap/.
Unemployment Insurance and PUA: With the recent delays with UI and PUA, visit huiclais.hawaii.gov or pua.hawaii.gov to start or follow up on your claim.
Regular COVID-19 Updates: For regular updates on cases in the State of Hawaii, visit hawaiicovid19.com. The State also launched a new website, recoverynavigator.hawaii.gov, that tracks Hawaii’s Economic and Community Recovery including reopening status and resources for businesses and residents.