SA: “COVID ‘crisis’ in Leeward Oahu” 8/30/21

COVID ‘crisis’ in Leeward Oahu as area leads island with case counts
By Nina Wu, Star-Advertiser, 8/30/21

The Leeward coast of Oahu is in crisis mode, with some of the highest coronavirus case counts on the island, which continue rising and spreading like wildfire among household members.

“We really are facing quite a dis­aster, a crisis, right now on the Leeward side,” said Jake Schafer, Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center director of infection control and employee health.

The Leeward coast is facing a “perfect storm” of pandemic fatigue resulting in people letting down their guard, combined with the highly transmissible delta variant and a low vaccination rate, Schafer said during a recent virtual talk-story with the Kapolei Chamber of Commerce.

Oahu’s highest case counts in the past 14 days have consistently been in ZIP code 96792, which includes Nanakuli and Waianae. On Sunday the state’s COVID-19 dashboard counted 802 cases in the 96792 ZIP code over the past 14 days, which brought the total there to 3,820 cases since the start of the pandemic.

At the same time, the area’s vaccination rate is among the isle’s lowest, with only 35% or less of the population fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Despite efforts, that rate has not changed much since June.

Nearly 1 in every 3 people tested positive at the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center recently.

Pat McKenzie, who oversees contact tracing for the center, has witnessed the heartbreaking impact of the coronavirus on many families since around the Fourth of July.

“We lifted restrictions, we had the vaccine,” said McKenzie, also a nurse practitioner and the center’s senior director of clinical initiatives and response. “While the vaccine uptake was slow, it was coming along — vaccinated or not — we thought things are going to get back to normal. Then the COVID was like, OK, people let me change just enough to infect more people and a lot quicker, and that’s exactly what happened.”

Among those getting infected on the Leeward coast are large and multigenerational families.

She recently had to contact a family of 10, for instance, including several adults and a few toddlers. When they share the same home, keeping those who are sick isolated from others can prove challenging.

One of the first things that contact tracers ask is whether someone can isolate completely away from family members, and with some luck there may be a separate bedroom available. However, many people do not have the luxury of having more than one bathroom, she said.

In that case, that person infected with COVID will have to warn everyone in the home — by cellphone, for instance — that they are going to emerge from their room to use the bathroom. Everyone else should clear the home or put on a mask, she said.

The sick person, also masked, should disinfect everything in the bathroom afterward.

“You really have to think through how to do this,” she said. “It’s really hard with kids. I really feel for young couples with kids.”

Without state-provided isolation rooms readily available, families have had to do the best they can, she said.

There can also be a domino effect on the entire family.

The person infected with COVID-19 has to isolate at least 10 days, depending on their symptoms, but if another family member picks up the virus on day nine, for example, then the entire family starts another isolation cycle of 10 days.

Some families have been in quarantine for 20 days or more, which is a hardship for those who are working.

Waianae Coast public schools sought help from the state Department of Education to help with staff shortages as they isolate or quarantine after potential exposure in the midst of the COVID-19 surge.

In an effort to help, the Kapolei Chamber of Commerce is working with Leeward side businesses to offer more education and vaccination clinics, with three scheduled at Campbell Industrial park and more to follow.

The state Health Department is also rolling out more testing and vaccination efforts in West Oahu to respond to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the community.

The first mobile clinic offering COVID-19 tests and vaccines was held Saturday at Waianae Mall. Clinics will be held every Saturday through Oct. 2 and rotate among the mall, Nanakuli Villages Mall and Nanakuli Intermediate & High School.

State Rep. Cedric Gates (D, Waianae-Makaha-Makua) said the Leeward community, which has often been neglected by a town-centric government, needs more resources.

“I think what has been going on in our community is an issue of mistrust with government and miscommunication,” he said, “and just misinformation in general being spread through the masses, through social media and these different platforms.”

Many have been susceptible to their Instagram or Facebook feeds, or what they heard from their cousin’s cousin, he said.

Officials need to take a more focused approach to addressing concerns in the community, he said, which is made up of many Native Hawaiians and blue-collar workers working on the front lines to pay their bills. They also need to address socioeconomic and health disparities that existed for years prior to the pandemic, which are now magnified.

Gates does not support vaccine mandates, saying it’s important for people “to come to the decision on their own,” but says they also need to understand the severity of COVID-19. Many are starting to as their friends and family get sick.

“People are now saying, hey, my auntie, my cousin, my uncle, is suffering from COVID; he’s in the hospital now,” he said. “That’s also pushing the vaccine-hesitant group of people to consider getting vaccinated.”

Schafer said for the unvaccinated it’s a matter of when, not if, one gets infected with the delta variant.

The Waianae health center’s emergency room has been swamped with sick COVID-19 patients, including those in their 20s and 30s who had to be intubated.

“We don’t have an in-bed facility here,” said Schafer. “We stabilize them and ship them off to a place that can take them. We’re having to call every place and beg for a bed — Queen’s, Kaiser, Pali Momi, Castle. There are not many beds available, and it takes a long time to find one for these folks.”

For McKenzie, who has been part of the community for 30 years, contact tracing has included many familiar names.

She and a team of about a dozen contact tracers have been putting in 12-hour days, calling those who test positive to offer advice and resources, and to help prevent the spread of more infections.

Many initially thought their symptoms were just allergies, a cold, or a headache after a long day at work, she said.

Some are difficult to reach and some will argue. There have been rare occasions where a COVID-19- positive person answered the phone while walking around a grocery store and needed to be told to go home immediately.

In another instance a contact tracer called an ambulance for someone exhibiting serious symptoms and in need of medical help.

Some of the people she calls express regrets about not getting vaccinated, she said, especially if they are very sick or have lost someone close. People seem to have a higher comfort level with vaccinations now that Pfizer has received full federal approval.

“I think what people need to do is ask, Where are you right now, today?” she said. “If you’re not positive, get the vaccine, or if you’re worried about it, call us and get your questions answered for sure.”

The Waianae community she knows looks out for one another, she said.

“In this community everybody knows everybody else,” she said. “You may have differences, but when the bottom line comes, they usually stand together. I honestly think people are looking toward the greater good and will come together in this crisis.”


10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Nanakuli Villages Mall (first shot)

9 a.m.-2 p.m., Sept. 18, Nanakuli Intermediate & High School (second shot)

9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sept. 25, Waianae Mall (second shot)

10 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 2, Nanakuli Villages Mall (second shot)

Source: State Department of Health


The Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center offers free COVID-19 vaccine shots at six locations including its main campus at 86-260 Farrington Highway and clinics in Nanakuli, Kapolei and Waipahu.

Call 427-3659 to schedule an appointment.

Visit for more information.

Ash Processing Contract Next Step in Closing Landfill (1/6/21)

By Megan Quinn, “Covanta’s $60M Ash Processing Contract in Honolulu Signals Next Step in Closing Local Landfill,” WasteDive, 6 Jan. 2021

Permission granted by Honolulu Dept. of Environmental Services

Dive Brief:

  • Covanta and the City and County of Honolulu plan to open a new facility meant to treat and recycle bottom ash from Oahu’s incinerator. The project would divert about 60% of the ash from the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill (WGSL), signalling another step in Honolulu’s efforts to close the island’s only MSW landfill.
  • The new facility, which Covanta will design, build and operate, will treat the ash from H-POWER, the island’s waste-to-energy facility. The incinerator produces about 180,000 tons of ash a year, making it a major contributor to the WGSL landfill.
  • H-POWER, which Covanta also operates, has metal sorting capabilities, but the new ash recycling facility would be able to sort out additional ferrous and nonferrous metal fines from bottom ash. The project will cost about $60 million over 11 years. That cost covers the initial design, build and installation process and does not include operation or maintenance costs, said Covanta spokesperson James Regan.

Dive Insight:

Hawaii has limited landfill capacity because of its island location, and Honolulu has worked to reduce the amount of waste going to its landfill to as little as possible, according to the local Department of Environmental Services (ENV). The ash processing facility aims to help Honolulu further divert waste from the landfill, as the Waste Management-operated WGSL has been ordered to close by 2028. Honolulu must name a location for a new MSW landfill by 2022, said Markus Owens, an information specialist with ENV.

About 85% of the MSW generated on Oahu goes to the H-POWER incinerator, according to Covanta, and the resulting ash is delivered regularly to the WGSL landfill. “The main reason for opening the [ash recycling facility] is to try and slow down the landfill from being an everyday type landfill,” Owens said.

After Honolulu put out an RFP for the ash processing facility last year, then-Mayor Kirk Caldwell, announced in December that Covanta had won the 10-year contract. Caldwell has said he opposes opening a new landfill on Oahu, but supports plans to continue diverting waste though projects like the ash processing facility. 

In addition to diverting ash from the landfill, the new facility also aims to increase Covanta’s capacity for metals recovery, Regan said. H-POWER recovers about 21,200 tons of metal for recycling annually, “but there is a significant amount of metal that remains in the ash,” he said. The ash processing technology “is a great step forward for the industry” to be able to recover more metal, Regan said. It’s too early to estimate how much additional metal the ash processing facility will be able to yield, he said. Once the two parties finalize the contract and Honolulu approves the necessary permits, the project could take a year to develop and begin operation.

Covanta has experience with downstream ash processing through recent projects like its Total Ash Processing System (TAPS) start-up, a pilot facility in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania, that Covanta says can process over 400,000 tons of bottom and fly ash from regional facilities. Though the Hawaii facility will use similar technology, Regan said it won’t be a true TAPS plant because it will process only H-POWER’s bottom ash. The new facility will also recover sediment that could potentially be used as construction material for roads or other projects.

Capturing a higher volume of metals may help boost Covanta’s revenue stream in the future, even amid wavering commodity prices. During Covanta’s latest earnings call in October, CFO Brad Helgeson noted that although metals prices were largely flat year-over-year, a slight price recovery for ferrous and nonferrous metals in the third quarter helped increase revenue by about $2 million.

Recommended Reading:

SA (4/28/21): ‘City Again Takes First Steps to Relocate Landfill’

By Ashley Mizuo, Star-Advertiser, 28 April 2021

For the third time, the city has started evaluating sites to replace the island’s only municipal landfill, Waimanalo Gulch, on the West side of Oahu.

The state Land Use Commission ruled in 2019 that Waimanalo Gulch must close by March 2, 2028, due to environmental justice issues, and the city must select a new location by Dec. 31, 2022.

The city has identified 12 potential areas that meet the mandated requirements for a new landfill. Two are on the West side, which will prove to be controversial as Waimanalo Gulch is also there. Three areas are on the north side of the island, and one is in Central Oahu.

Potential sites were evaluated in 2012 and 2017, But Wesley Yokoyama, director of the city’s Department of Environmental Services, told the City Council Tuesday that new laws make the previous locations obsolete and not worthy of consideration.

“We’d like to note that those reports are null and void at this time,” he said. “They’re just there for history.”

The state in September enacted Act 73, which prohibits any waste or disposal facility from being located in state conservation districts and requires a half-mile buffer between the edge of any disposal activity and the closest residence, school or hospital property line.

The law disqualified several of the sites that were considered in the 2012 and 2017 study. Instead, Environmental Services staff have identified 12 areas on the island that would be eligible after taking all mandated restrictions into account.

Yokoyama warned that the locations are preliminary and present only a rough idea of where the next landfill could be.

“We’ve identified areas — not parcels, but areas that are potential for the landfill,” he said.

“Now the next step is looking in these areas for parcels and applying the criteria selection, looking at who owns it, actually doing a more granular search to make sure that we’re not within that half-mile zone with residences, and then developing specific parcels and areas that would be possible for development of a landfill,” Yokoyama said.

Two of the eligible areas are on the West side of the island, and Councilwoman Andria Tupola, who represents the area, immediately said they should be eliminated.

STAR-ADVERTISER: “Every single site on this island is in my district as far as a landfill is concerned. You might want to put another map code that suggests that those ones are not in.” -Andria Tupola, Councilwoman

“Every single site on this island is in my district as far as a landfill is concerned,” she said. “You might want to put another map code that suggests that those ones are not in. Because we’re trying to look for some fairness and justice here. It shouldn’t be considered again in those two areas.”

Waimanalo Gulch landfill has been in operation since 1989. The West side also hosts the private construction and demolition landfill PVT.

Yokoyama emphasized that environmental justice considerations have yet to be taken into consideration, and the areas that were identified Tuesday are all that remain on Oahu after eliminating restricted areas.

“We still need to search in these areas and apply the discretionary type of criteria to the sites that we look for in here,” he said. “That’s where we’ll include stuff like the environmental justice, costs, impacts to the surrounding community, that kind of thing. So these are just the areas that are left after all the requirements are taken into account.”

Councilman Calvin Say questioned whether the city would be able to select a new location for the landfill by the mandated deadline in 2022.

“Is it realistic for us to say that you and I and the Council have only 18 months?” he asked.

“You haven’t even gone out to the community, to the boards, etc., to explain the county’s position or why there’s a need for another site,” Say said. “It has to be vetted with the total community because you’re accepting their waste, and that’s the responsibility of all of us.”

According to Yokoyama’s presentation, the industry standard for locating, permitting and developing a new landfill takes a minimum of 10 years — while the city faces a deadline of seven years.

As a contingency plan, the city is applying for a district boundary amendment from the state Land Use Commission.

“I want to stress that this is not our primary goal,” Yokoyama said. “This is a backup goal in case we can’t re-site a landfill for whatever reason.”

A district boundary amendment requires an environmental impact statement, which could take about four years to complete. There is no guarantee the amendment would then be granted.

The city’s contract with HPOWER, a waste-to-energy incinerator that absorbs most of the island’s waste, requires Oahu to have a landfill to accept its ash residue and the remaining waste that the plant cannot process.

Ultimately, it will be up to Mayor Rick Blangiardi to decide where the next landfill should go, but the City Council will be able to weigh in when the budget is drafted.

Yokoyama estimated that it would cost about $210 million to open the next landfill. He is considering pushing for a refuse user fee to charge people for the waste they dispose of.

The fee would generate income while discouraging people from generating waste, which Yokoyama believes is integral to reducing Oahu’s trash problems.

“I really think we need to educate and start thinking about and changing the mindset of people about source reduction,” he said. “If you don’t have to renovate your house, don’t do it. You don’t have to throw away or buy things and just dump it because a new thing comes along,” he said.

“That’s where all of our waste comes from,” Yoko­yama said. “It’s consumerism, American consumerism. … Source control, I think, is the key.”