- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 18, 2020

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii authorities have extended the closure of public schools statewide and restricted access by non-residents to popular Hana Highway in Maui as they fight the spread of coronavirus. The number of people testing positive for the disease stands at 16. Two new cases were Oahu residents who had traveled out of state.

Here’s a roundup of developments in Hawaii:

SCHOOL CLOSURE EXTENDED

The state Department of Education said it would keep public schools closed for two weeks beyond the originally scheduled end of spring break. It now plans to have students return to class on April 7. Students had been expected to return next Monday. But over the weekend the state extended the recess by one week to plan for social distancing at schools, help staff prepare and thoroughly clean campuses. On Wednesday, it added another week to the recess.

NO COMMUNITY SPREAD



The Department of Health said three household members of an infected Kualoa Ranch tour guide on Oahu have all tested negative for the coronavirus.

All 16 people who tested positive in Hawaii to date have either traveled out of state or were exposed to a traveler in Hawaii, meaning there was no evidence of what public health officials call “community spread” in the islands. Community spread refers to when people have been infected in a particular area, including some who aren’t sure how or where they were exposed.

Hawaii public health officials believe community spread will eventually occur in the state.

OAHU PARKS

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is closing city facilities, including municipal golf courses, fields, parks and pools through April 30. That would include Ala Moana Regional Park, which is popular among residents and tourists alike. Officials say people will still be able to be in the water and on the sand, but no one will be allowed to park vehicles there, enjoy the grassy lawns or use its facilities, including bathrooms.

“People could be in the water and on the sand, but we are trying to stop the gathering of people at the beach parks to stop the spread of the virus,” said Alexander Zannes, a Caldwell spokesman. “People should stay at home unless it is essential.”

Caldwell is also closing the Honolulu Zoo. He said workers who care for animals would be difficult to replace if they get sick.

HANA HIGHWAY

Gov. David Ige decided not to allow non-residents on a rural Maui highway that’s popular with tourists. The state Department of Transportation is expected to place signs along Hana Higway notifying drivers the road is open to residents only.

Sen. Kalani English said the move will keep tourists from causing traffic, entering closed parks and coming into contact with one another and residents along the road. The Hana resident said he knows most of the area’s economy relies on tourists but health must come first.

KAUAI CURFEW

Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said he would impose a nighttime curfew starting Friday. The rule will require everyone on the islands to stay home between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.

“This decision was made with three goals in mind - one, protecting and preserving our existing resources, two, managing the spread of COVID-19 by increasing social distancing, and three, ensuring that essential services, operations, and family care can continue,” he said in a statement.

CONSTRUCTION RESILIENCE

Hawaii’s construction industry could soften the blow to the state’s economy from the coronavirus, analysts and business leaders said.

The industry could contend relatively well as retailers, restaurants, airlines, hotels and visitor attractions cut back operations in response to the virus, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Tuesday.

Construction is close to a $10 billion industry that has been one of the top five contributors to the state’s economic output in recent years. Local government and business leaders have proposed boosting public works construction projects to help Hawaii’s economy.

Under state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations guidelines, construction work falls in a category of lower exposure risk to COVID-19 in part because job sites do not allow frequent close contact with the general public.

“I don’t see a case for shutting down construction activity as you would see in food service,” economist Paul Brewbaker of TZ Economics said.

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The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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