In today’s Hawaii News Updates, we’ll discuss the latest public health alerts and outbreaks. The first is the confirmation of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 on Oahu. A new COVID-19 testing location has been opened on Oahu, and a new law has been passed to provide Sign-language interpreters during public health emergencies. In addition, we’ll look at a new bill that increases the minimum wage and addresses the need for additional mental health professionals in the state.
Omicron variant of COVID-19 virus confirmed in Oahu
The Department of Health confirmed two dozen new cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in Hawaii this week. The virus has now been found on all 74 islands. Hawaii became the fifth state to detect the virus. In fact, the virus first appeared in South Africa in November. The virus has spread across the globe to more than 77 countries, including the United States.
The Omicron coronavirus variant has been reported in California, Minnesota, Colorado and New York. Governor Kathy Hochul said that five people have contracted the virus, including one who recently traveled to South Africa. The outbreak has also affected neighbor islands, such as Kauai. It’s unclear whether the new cases of the virus are related or caused by a different strain.
New COVID-19 testing locations added on Oahu
The City and County of Honolulu is expanding the number of locations offering free COVID-19 testing on the island of Oahu. During the omicron surge, testing at HNL was extended to all weekdays, but that will change on Feb. 21. In addition, two new COVID-19 testing sites will open on Oahu starting Feb. 23, in Kapolei and Honolulu Hale.
COVID-19 testing is a requirement for international travelers. Only a few locations offer the tests. Some Hawaii airports also offer the testing, but they aren’t available everywhere. For example, travelers from San Francisco and Oakland should visit one of these locations before flying to Hawaii. These locations will offer convenient access to the testing service, including same-day drive-thru results. For those who can’t find an airport testing center, they can mail-in a saliva sample to the airline.
The CDC has identified these areas as high-risk for COVID-19. The new locations will be staffed with certified medical professionals and will perform the tests at no charge. Those who want to schedule an appointment must complete a simple online form and print it out to bring with them. In addition, people should bring a government-issued photo ID to the testing site. However, it is important to note that this testing is only for people who are not symptomatic or have no history of COVID-19 infection.
Sign-language interpreters during public health emergencies
Sign-language interpreters are indispensable during emergencies, and their services are especially important during COVID-19. Interpreters stand six feet away from the presenter and in front of the camera, communicating in American Sign Language to deliver vital information to the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Sign-language interpreters are essential to the health and safety of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community.
In addition to working as an interpreter for public health emergencies, Sakal also served as a deaf-awareness advocate. She attended daily briefings for the hearing-impaired and provided a sense of security to the community. Her positive attitude helped calm the community and former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Cadwell. Infected by the coronavirus, Sakal developed intestinal and breathing symptoms. Initially, she was placed on a ventilator to help her breath, but her family was concerned that she might not survive.
Patty Sakal, who was a sign language interpreter for over 40 years, passed away from COVID-19 complications. Patty was a staunch advocate for the hearing-impaired and was featured on Hawaii television frequently during emergency updates. She kept the public informed during the pandemic. Her daughter lives in Texas. Fortunately, her family and community are working together to honor Patty Sakal.
New minimum wage bill passed in Hawaii
A new minimum wage bill passed in Hawaii today has the potential to lift the wages of countless low-wage workers. The bill, which is expected to take effect in 2028, increases the minimum wage to $18 an hour. It also increases the tip credit, which is worth up to $1.50 per hour, which will increase the income of working mothers and help keep families from falling into poverty and homelessness. But what if the minimum wage doesn’t raise enough to make the transition?
The bill was opposed by some businesses in Hawaii, including the state’s Chamber of Commerce. However, the Hawaii State Legislature passed the bill and employers are required to display the poster to educate employees on the minimum wage and their rights under the law. Failing to post the poster is a violation of the law and can result in hefty fines. As a result, the bill will be challenged in court. Hopefully, the Hawaii legislature will not decide to overturn it, but it’s important to know that the state will implement this new minimum wage rule.