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Hawaii Officials Say Still No Confirmed Virus Cases Here, Japan Tourist Couple Flew On Delta

Mark Schiefelbein/AP

Update: 2/17/20, 1:58 p.m.

Officials say Hawaii still has no reported case of coronavirus, although a couple visiting from Japan who traveled in the islands and returned to Nagoya on a Delta Airlines flight earlier this month was confirmed to have the illness.

The two tourists traveled to Maui and Oahu in late January and early February, officials have said. Hawaiian Airlines said last week that the man had flown from Maui to Oahu on Feb. 3. While on Oahu, the man developed mild, flu-like symptoms. When he returned to Japan on Feb. 7, health officials said, he was diagnosed with coronavirus.

On Saturday, the state health department confirmed that the man's wife had also been hospitalized with the virus, known as COVID-19. Officials say they are continuing to investigate if the couple had close or prolonged contact with anyone while they were in Hawaii. 

In a statement Monday, Delta said it is aware of reports that the couple traveled together on Feb. 6 between Honolulu and Nagoya on Flight 611. The airlines said it is communicating with public health officials, including those at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Japanese agencies.

"The health and safety of our customers and crews is our top priority, and in cooperation with Japanese health officials, we are proactively reaching out to customers who were onboard that flight as well as taking the necessary steps to ensure the safety of our customers and crew," the airlines stated.

It's not clear why state officials cite Feb. 7 as the date the tourists returned to Japan while the airlines listed the return date as Feb. 6.

The couple stayed at the Hilton Grand Waikikian while on Oahu, where the man began showing symptoms with no fever. Because of the timing of the symptoms, state Epidemiologist Sarah Park said she notified doctors that cases may appear before Feb. 21 since the onset of disease is usually within 14 days of exposure.

"There is no increased risk on Maui from possible exposure," Park said last week since the tourist did not show symptoms while visiting that island. 

As of Saturday, the health department said there is still only one person in quarantine at Pearl Harbor who had traveled to Hubei Province, China, where the outbreak began. Another 53 people who traveled in other parts of China are self-monitoring and voluntarily remaining at home.

In other developments, more than 300 U.S. citizens from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that had been docked in Yokohama, Japan, have been evacuated to the Travis Air Station in Northern California and the Lackland Air Force Base in Texas where they are under quarantine, the Associated Press reported. 

Hawaii News Now reported that an Ewa couple, Eric and Debra Pagan, were among the evacuees and shared photos of the evacuation flight. At least six Hawaii residents are reported among those on the cruise ship. 

Two Hawaii passengers who fell ill with coronavirus were taken off the ship and hospitalized in Japan. Lt. Gov. Josh Green told HPR he spoke with one of the Hawaii residents, who said he believes he may have contracted the virus shortly after leaving Hong Kong several weeks ago. The man believes he could have been exposed to the virus while in a sauna with a sick person.

On Saturday, city officials and community representatives encouraged residents and visitors to continue to patronize Chinatown businesses after merchants said sales have dropped off following the coronavirus outbreak.

Dr. Jim Ireland said at a Chinatown press conference that while there are no reports of coronavirus cases in Hawaii, flu is showing up in the islands.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed Hawaii among the states with high flu activity in recent surveillance reports, with countrywide hospitalization rates among children and younger adults higher than in previous flu seasons.

State health officials advised residents and visitors to take precautions against diseases like coronavirus and flu that can spread:

  • Wash hands frequently and with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Stay home if you are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and throw it away.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household
    cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Get a flu shot.

More information is available on the state health department website. Answers to general questions about coronavirus is also available by calling the Aloha United Way information line at 211.

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