Maui Coronavirus Updates

Mayor’s Request for Delay of In-Classroom Learning Fails to Gain Governor’s Support

By Wendy Osher
August 2, 2021, 3:19 PM HST
* Updated August 4, 5:19 AM
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Ige: Maui is Prepared to Start In-Person Learning

The mayor’s request to postpone the start of in-classroom learning has failed to gain the support of Governor David Ige.

“I did have the opportunity to speak briefly with Mayor Victorino this morning. I did inform him that we were ready and prepared to start in-person learning at all of the Maui schools, just as we are across the state,” said Gov. Ige, who provided an update on back to school safety during a press briefing on Monday afternoon at Kawananakoa Middle School Auditorium.

“We will be speaking again to look at his specific concerns and seeing what other actions we can take to make him feel more comfortable. We do believe that it’s important that our students on each island in every county have the opportunity to return to in-person learning,” said Gov. Ige in response to Maui Now’s request for comment.

In making the request on Sunday, Mayor Victorino had said it was in light of new CDC data showing the Delta variant can spread as easily as Chickenpox. He had asked for the return of classroom learning be postponed a few weeks until the impacts of the current COVID-19 surge on Maui County’s healthcare facilities could be assessed. The request was also made as the state’s positivity rate has climbed 163% over the past two weeks, with an average of 374 cases per day over the past six days. Maui had 44 confirmed and probable cases today.

But health officials say there will be an “inevitable rise in cases” no matter when schools reopen.

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“If we delay the opening of schools for a couple of weeks, we will see a rise in a couple of weeks. If we delay it for six weeks, we’ll see a rise in six weeks. It just has to do with getting 180,000 people back together on campus.”

Dr. Elizabeth Char, director of the state Department of Health
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Maui Now reached out to the office of the Mayor for comment. A spokesperson followed up saying the Mayor has nothing further to add at this time.

Dr. Libby Char, Director Hawaiʻi Department of Health (left); and Gov. David Ige (right). PC: Office of the Governor/State of Hawaiʻi.

DOE Reiterates That K-12 Should be Last to Close and First to Reopen During a Pandemic

“In person learning contributes to the overall wellbeing of our students,” said Interim Superintendent of schools, Keith Hayashi. “From the availability of social/emotional support resources, to food security through our school meal programs, to extracurricular activities.”

“We are still in a pandemic and we continue to operate as such. We know that a rise in cases is expected as we bring more students back to campus because schools are a reflection of their communities. The CDC and Department of Health have said K-12 schools should be the last to close and the first to reopen during a pandemic.”

Interim Superintendent of schools, Keith Hayashi
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“Right now, the state is open for business, with no other industries shut down. Our schools are ready to open as well. And again, we have shown that we can do this safely.

Hayashi said increasing the state’s vaccination rate is one of the best ways to protect against the virus. “We worked with the Department of Health to provide vaccinations at the start of the 2021 school year to all of our staff and school-based service providers as front-line essential workers. Then in May, soon after a vaccine was approved for adolescents 12 and older, we began standing up vaccination clinics at middle and high schools to make access as easy and convenient as possible for students and families. Since we’ve hosted over 100 school-based clinics statewide, including one here at Kawananakoa in June. We are again partnering with the DOH and healthcare providers to organizer more clinics once a vaccine is approved for younger children,” he said

According to Hayashi, the DOE is also working to expand access to rapid testing on campuses. “Reopening our schools safely requires a broad commitment from all of us to prevent the mitigation and spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” he said.

Health Officials: Inevitable Rise In Cases Will Come No Matter When Schools Reopen

“The Department of Health acknowledges that there is a lot of anxiety in the community right now and so we’ve been very, very meticulous in reviewing the whole issue of schools and trying to provide guidance,” said Dr. Elizabeth Char, director of the state Department of Health.

“We feel that at this point, the benefit to kids being back in school far exceeds the risk.”

Dr. Elizabeth Char, director of the state Department of Health

“Part of that is because we have so many layers of mitigation so that we can reopen schools safely. This guidance is the same guidance that has been provided to many other schools that have already opened. So far we can take lessons learned from them and see that the schools can be reopened safely,” said Dr. Char.

“At the same time, I’d like to reassure people that the Department of Health is working really, really hard to get a whole bunch of these mitigation measures–and they’re just layers upon layers of mitigation–to get the safety measures back in place so that schools can reopen safely for our children,” said Dr. Char.

Layered Approach to Learning Includes Familiar Reminders

Gov. Ige joined Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char and state Department of Education interim superintendent Keith Hayashi in updating the public about the state’s layered approach in getting the 165,000 students and 13,000 teachers and staff at 257 public schools back to school.

  1. Encourage Vaccinations to those who are eligible: “We are promoting the COVID-19 vaccinations among all staff and eligible students 12 years of age and older,” said Gov. Ige, noting that school-based personnel were a priority in the state’s vaccination schedule. “They have been eligible in the phase 1B priority to get vaccinated since the beginning of the year.” State officials say there are now more than 400 locations across the state where people can show up and walk-in without an appointmen. “I’m asking everyone in the state of Hawaiʻi–those who are not vaccinated, to get vaccinated–to protect our children as they get back to school,” said Gov. Ige.
  2. Stay Home When Sick: “We are asking staff and students to stay home when they are sick. The Delta variant is contagious and transmissible and we have to break the chain of transmission. Parents, just a reminder, if your child is sick–especially if they are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, you have to keep them home,” said Gov. Ige.
  3. Correct and Consistent Mask Wearing: State officials are also working to ensure that there is correct and consistent masking at schools. “We do know that there is clear evidence that wearing a mask–especially indoors, or outdoors in large groups–is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Gov. Ige, calling it one of the best and effective measures to protect yourself and those you care about. “It’s something that we can all do to ensure our children’s success at school,” he said.
  4. Good Hand Hygiene: A fourth reminder is placing emphasis on the importance of good hand hygiene. “Wash your hands frequently, (and) use hand sanitizer. All of those mitigation measures that are effective, and have been effective for the past year-and-a-half, continue to be effective, even against the variants,” said Gov. Ige.

“These are the things that we all can do in order to help get our children back to in-person learning safely and healthy. The same elements of this layered strategy must be applied at every level in communities all across the state. People in every work place and every social gathering must take the same measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” said Gov. Ige.

Ige Asks Employers to Follow Similar Mitigation Strategies

The Governor asked employees and employers to follow similar mitigation strategies while at work.

“To our working families, if you have the sniffles, or are symptomatic, please stay home. Don’t go to work. Please get tested if it’s COVID-19 symptoms,” said Gov. Ige. He acknowledge that COVID has taken a “severe toll” on businesses and organizations across the state. “It has impacted our economy, and it will continue to do so unless we can return to normal; and returning our students to in-person learning is a significant first step for our entire community,” he said.

“We want to encourage employees to become vaccinated if they haven’t already. If your employees are sick, ask them to stay home, and provide access to testing if necessary. Ensure that there is correct and consistent mask wearing at your work place. Wearing masks continues to be one of the most effective mitigation strategies. And please emphasize the importance of good hand hygiene,” said Gov. Ige.

Concluding Thoughts

“Since this pandemic began, my priorities have always been: protecting health, re-energizing the economy, and building stronger communities. The Back to School Safely program addresses all three of these important areas. We’ve heard the phrase ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ and I’m encouraging everyone all across the state of Hawaiʻi to do your part. Take personal action to help us return our students to in-person learning because it allows us to move forward as a community,” said Gov. Ige.

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served more than 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.
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