Honolulu Hale Shuts Down, 1000 to Undergo Broad Scale Testing
*Video courtesy Mayor Kirk Caldwell / Facebook Live.
By Wendy Osher
While Honolulu Hale remained open for Saturday’s Primary Election, it is closing for business this afternoon as city officials conduct COVID-19 testing on an estimated 1,000 employees amid news of a cluster of cases identified at the property.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell says there are currently 48 (updated/scroll down for complete list) City and County employees in Honolulu who have tested positive for COVID-19, including 10 at the Honolulu Hale grounds.
“Sadly we do have clusters here at the Hale. At least nine or 10 Department of Fiscal Services, and we even have a case in my office, in the Mayor’s office,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. “For that reason, we are testing everyone including me. I’ve been tested. The results should be made available by the end of today.”
Mayor Caldwell headed home to self-quarantine after the press briefing this morning, as he awaits the results. “We’re asking all city workers to work at home wherever possible like we did back in March when we did the complete lock down–telecommute, stay away from each other, protect yourself and slow down the spread of this virus,” he said.
In response to a question about his justification for having an election at Honolulu Hale with 10 known infections, Mayor Caldwell explained that those who were infected were on different floors, not the ground floor of the Hale where election activity was held over the weekend. He also noted that offices where positive employees were identified, disinfection had taken place. “I believe that adequate precautions were undertaken to allow a very critical component of our society to move forward, and that is voting.”
Effective at 4:30 this afternoon, Honolulu Hale will be closed for business in terms of interfacing with the public, except for very limited purposes of coming in to make payments that absolutely have to be made. A security guard will be at the entrance to assist those who need to go up to a window and make urgent payments.
All city employees on the municipal grounds are also being tested including those who work at Honolulu Hale, the Mission Memorial Complex and the high rise Frank Fasi Municipal Building.
Last week, similar testing was conducted for the City Council in response to a request by Honolulu City Council Chair Ikaika Anderson. A total of 87 individuals were tested during that response effort in the City Council chamber. From that testing, there were three positives–in the office of the Honolulu City Clerk as well as in the Office of the Department of Budget and Fiscal Services.
According to Anderson, the clinic was conducted after learning last week that a positive COVID-19 case was confirmed in the Office of the City Clerk at Honolulu Hale. “Upon hearing that, I reached out to Council Vice Chair Ann Kobayashi and we both decided that it would be in the public’s interest as well as the interest of everyone who works here at Honolulu Hale to initiate testing for our Honolulu family as soon as possible,” said Anderson.
Meantime, satellite City Halls on Oahu will remain open for appointment only, for critical services like renewing a drivers license or getting a driver’s test completed. “We continue to do this because of the rigid protocols that we have in place,” said Mayor Caldwell. “We want to keep the basic functions of government open wherever possible.
The Council has decided to postpone this coming Wednesday’s City Council meeting that was scheduled to be held at Honolulu Hale. That meeting will be postponed until at least next week Wednesday as leaders look to determine a meeting location and a meeting time. Testimony will be made remotely over the internet. Anderson is also urging at the close of business today that all legislative branch employees to the extent possible, work from elsewhere outside of Honolulu Hale grounds.
Dr. Scott Miscovich with Premier Medical Group Hawaii, who is leading the testing effort today said he was working in coordination with city and county to ensure immediate internal contact tracing was done.
“There was very rapid and effective communication,” he said. Dr. Miscovich said that in an environment like this, it was determined that the most effective way to address the infections was to do broad scale testing.
Mayor Caldwell said, “We have shut down bars, we have now closed our parks, and we’re asking people to really comply. We’ve mandated face coverings everywhere. We can turn this around if we all do our part. Starting with me; and then starting with you, and all of us working together.”
According to Mayor Caldwell, “citations in the hundreds” have been issued by the Honolulu Police Department over the weekend. “One wedding on the beach… What were they thinking–inviting their guests and friends to start off their lives together and jeopardize getting each other sick,” he said.
Mayor Caldwell will also be having a conversation with state officials about state hiking trails that are open. He said it’s “making a blurred line where there should be a bright line,” and creating confusion among users.
Dr. Miscovich said he is not recommending testing for those who showed up to vote or drop off ballots at Honolulu Hale over the weekend. “I completely support the decision that was made to allow the facility to stay open. You know again, you look at the individuals–this is a respiratory virus. This opening over here, high ceilings, the air can move. It’s not about the touch surfaces. Things will not last in this type of environment for a long period of time. There was cleaning…. It’s more that person to person transmission,” said Dr. Miscovich.
The 48 City and County of Honolulu employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 from various departments across Honolulu, include the following:
13 in Honolulu Fire Department
9 in Budget and Fiscal Services
9 in Honolulu Police Department
3 in Board of Water Supply
2 in Environmental Services
2 in Parks and Recreation
2 in Honolulu Emergency Services Department
2 in Department of Community Services
1 in Design and Construction
1 in Human Resources
1 in Facility Maintenance
1 in the Clerk’s Office
1 in Enterprise Services
1 in the Mayor’s Office