Hawaii Sees 1st Community Virus Case As Numbers Rise, Legislature Suspends Session

Mar 15, 2020

Updated: 3/16/20, 4:20 p.m.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige on Monday confirmed the state has its first community-spread coronavirus case. The state reports there are now 10 cases of COVID-19 in the state with the addition of two Oahu residents and one Maui visitor. Media reports say a Kualoa Ranch employee with no travel history to indicate her infection came from out of state has tested positive for the virus, which signals the disease is spreading within the community.

Ige also announced he is eliminating the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits for those who lose their jobs as a result of COVID-19 as the state responds to the growing outbreak.

At a press conference, Ige said shipments of goods are proceeding as usual and urged residents not to hoard supplies -- and merchants not to price-gouge; a supplemental emergency proclamation signed by the governor and his original proclamation allow the state to take action in such situations, he said. Any incidents of private-gouging can be reported to the state Office of Consumer Protection.

The latest proclamation will require residents to practice social distancing -- avoiding large groups and keeping at least six feet away from others -- to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

The governor also said the state's Sunshine Law that requires public notice of meetings will be suspended to allow government entities to meet, including online, without violating the notice requirements.

Ige said the state will release details later on the first case of community spread. But media reports say the Kualoa Ranch employee has tested positive and household members may have been exposed as well.

The state said in its Monday afternoon update that the latest three cases are in isolation and their family members in self-quarantine while monitored by the state Department of Health.

In addition to the 10 positive cases, the health department says there are now 7 cases under investigation pending test results. Eighty-six people have now tested negative and 9 people, all on Oahu, are self-monitoring under health department supervision.

The state has posted a list of walk-in and drive-up screening sites on the health department's website. All require that people call ahead of time for the screenings, although the Queen's Medical Center does not.

Queen's said it is not accepting walk-in testing at any of its Island Urgent Care locations. Any testing needs to be scheduled through The Queen's Health Systems Infoline at 691-2619. 

The initial screening determines if a person meets the criteria for a COVID-19 test. 

Those with symptoms such as fever, cough and shortness of breath should first call their doctor before seeking screening. If your doctor wants you sceened, bring a photo I.D and insurance card. Major insurers are waiving the co-pay for tests when these are doctor-ordered. Medicare and Medicaid costs are also free if the tests are ordered by a health provider.

Officials said the state will be looking at screening people from cruise ships and the airports, with discussions involving the Hawaii National Guard, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and state Department of Transportation.

There is currently a 30-day suspension of cruise ships docking at U.S. ports, although some local officials want to see a longer cessation of cruise tours in the islands.

Although Health Director Bruce Anderson took the lead initially, the governor is appointing Major Gen. Ken Hara, HIEMA director, as the incident leader in the local response to the pandemic. He said the appointment was made in answer to President Trump's directive that states treat the coronavirus outbreak as an emergency.   

Hilton Raethel of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii said his group is counting the number of intensive care beds, ventilators and other resources available to hospitals to determine where Hawaii stands in the event of a major spread.

Ventilators, which doctors say would be in short supply in a large outbreak, have been one area of concern. In a call today, Ige said President Trump and Vice President Pence asked that the states access their usual local supply chains first for equipment and supplies and escalate requests to the federal government requests as needed.

Ige said officials are looking at all actions to "flatten that curve," a reference to keeping the number of COVID-19 cases as few as possible so that the Hawaii health care system does become overwhelmed as has been seen in places like Italy.

2020 Hawaii Legislature suspended 

State Legislature leaders announced Monday that they are suspending the 2020 session indefinitely starting tomorrow, March 17.

Senate President Ron Kouchi and House Speaker Scott Saiki said they are taking the step to protect the health and well-being of the public.

"We've currently at a point in the legislative session where key legislation is being advanced and members of the public feel compelled to be here to testify on important issues," said Saiki in a statement. "We want to protect those who would otherwise feel compelled to be here."

Kouchi said hundreds of people visit and work at the state Capitol. "To combat the spread of COVID-19, it is important that we limit gatherings, especially those involving vulnerable populations," he said.

City to cancel Blaisdell Center, 50-plus events, indoor gatherings on its property

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the city is canceling events at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center through April as the coronavirus outbreak grows.

The city is also following the latest direction from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and canceling events on its properties that involve more than 50 people, including the Lei Day event on May 1.

Hanauma Bay will also be closed since visitors are required to watch a video in an enclosed room before using the marine sanctuary. The Honolulu Zoo, which is largely outdoors, will remain open, the mayor said. Parks, basketball courts, shooting ranges and other outdoor facilities will remain open for now.

The mayor also urged hotels and other private companies to restrict gatherings given the CDC guidance. He said he does not have the authority to close restaurants and bars in service, as did Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, because the city does not have a health department and there's been only one local case of community spread.

Caldwell also said Monday that the city has acquired a site on Kaaahi Street next to the women's IHS shelter in Iwilei to screen and isolate homeless people if needed. He said the state will be asked to provide wraparound services. 

The mayor said he's not surprised that there's now been community spread of the virus. 

Caldwell said he has been told the community spread case involves a mother, child and one other adult who have been tested -- and one has been confirmed positive. He said he has been told others who came into contact with them are being tested.

THIS IS A BREAKING STORY. See our previous story below.

The state public schools will extend its spring break an extra week, with students now scheduled to return to classes on March 30, Gov. David Ige announced Sunday. The decision is the latest made by the state in response to the swiftly changing conditions brought on by the coronavirus outbreak. 

Most schools were originally set to take their break from March 16-20. The extension excluding Kuhio Day allows four days for teachers and other school staff to plan for "social distancing" and conduct school cleaning before students return to classes at the end of the month.

But Department of Education Deputy Superintendent Phyllis Unebasami said DOE is not looking at closing the schools, although other public school districts across the country have taken that step in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.

Disrupting the routines of students would be traumatic in scary times. Instead, DOE's goal, she said, is to support its students and families, said Unebasami.

Ige said, however, that the state will be looking at closing schools on a case-by-case basis depending on what happens with community spread of the virus.

DOE is working with community partners to help with childcare and activities since families had not planned for an extended spring break.

Unebasami said the department is also asking its food services staff to plan on reaching out to students who rely on school-provided breakfast and lunch to ensure they do not go hungry.

Ige said during the break, schools will be taking steps to sanitize desks and high-touch areas and to create distances between students when they return to class.

Multi-track schools, such as Kapolei Middle School, will also be taken off track for two weeks to allow for the planning.

The DOE issued a statement on the extended spring break on its website. The department said all events of more than 100 attendees are being canceled starting tomorrow. That could mean the cancellation of some spring proms.

Graduation ceremonies have not yet been modified and scheduling announcements will be made later, the department said.

Meanwhile, 'Iolani School announced it was suspending on-campus classes starting tomorrow, four days ahead of the scheduled spring break March 20-27. Distance learning will begin in the coming week until the scheduled spring break, then will resume on March 30, the school said in a news release.

New coronavirus cases

Ige also announced that the state coronavirus case count now stands at seven with the addition of three positive results from Clinical Labs, a private laboratory. All of the cases involve travel out of the state. He said there is still no evidence of community spread. 

One case involves an individual who traveled to Colorado from Feb 29 to March 7. Symptoms appeared two days later and a sample was taken on March 11. A preschool-age child in the household was also tested but proved negative for the virus. The child will be kept home until the quarantine period is over as a precaution.

A second case involves an Air Canada flight attendant on Maui who took a flight on March 8, and showed symptoms the next day. A sample was taken on March 11. Because of her symptoms, she self-isolated at Royal Lahaina Resort but she has since been moved to an isolation facility in Lahaina. She believes she was exposed on March 4 in Germany.

The third new case  involves an Oahu resident who went to Florida on March 8, developed symptoms, a specimen taken on March 10 and self-isolated at home away from the rest of the family.

On visitor screening and closing the airports

Ige repeated that it would be impossible to screen the thousands of visitors who come to Hawaii and he has no power to close the state borders. He said the airlines are looking at procedures such as screening passengers for sickness before they board the plans.

Although President Trump has ordered a ban on travel from Europe that will include Britain and Ireland, Health Director Bruce Anderson said trying to close borders is ineffective in the long run because it postpones the disease. 

But he said what officials are hearing from all sides is that the solution is social distancing -- avoiding close contact with individuals, especially those who are sick. He said it is not too soon even for Hawaii, without evidence of community spread, to take steps for social distancing.

Looking at Hawaii National Guard components 'we feel necessary'

Ige said parts of the Hawaii National Guard could be activated if needed for planning and infrastructure projects. But he indicated the state would not be calling up the Guard now as other states have done.

THIS IS A BREAKING STORY. Read our previous report below.

Following on this weekend's announcement of two Mainland visitors on Kauai testing positive for the coronavirus, Maui County reported its first case and Oahu counted its third last night. The latest cases bring Hawaii's total number of COVID-19 cases to six. 

The state Department of Health said in a news release last night that the positive test results for the Maui and latest Oahu cases came from private laboratories, which have begun taking samples in Hawaii this week. The tests are subject to confirmation by a state health lab. 

The Maui patient is a female visitor who was under investigation before she tested positive for the coronavirus, a Maui County spokesman said. There were no details provided on the third Oahu case.

Health officials have notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and have begun working with the counties on next steps.

Gov. David Ige and health officials have rescheduled a news conference set for 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. today to discuss the latest cases. The recent press conferences have been streamed and archived on the governor's Facebook page.

Officials have warned that the number of cases will increase as private labs, which only recently were allowed to accept samples for the coronavirus tests, detect cases that haven't come to light up to now.

The state lab in Pearl City and the Tripler Army Medical Center are the only CDC-certified labs for coronavirus testing in Hawaii. They are capable of turning results out within 24 hours. The private labs are applying for certification, but samples are being sent to the Mainland for now -- a process that can take a few days to a week before results are returned, officials said.

Maui, Kauai visitors didn't disclose close contact

A couple arriving on Maui from Indiana flew to the island on March 2. Both became sick and visited urgent care facilities but did not reveal that they had previously been in close contact with a COVID-19 positive patient.

The man and woman, both with symptoms, flew to Kauai on Hawaiian Airlines 149 on March 8 and stayed in the Kaua'i Marriott Resort. The next day, one went to another urgent care clinic and was given antibiotics. 

On March 12, the same patient visited the Wilcox Medical Center and it was there that the couple disclosed their previous close contact with the coronavirus case.

Three health care workers who came into contact with the couple did not have appropriate personal protection gear and have been kept off the job while self-isolating in case they were exposed to the virus.

Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said in a video on the county's Facebook page that the visitors are now in isolation at a county facility away from the general public and officials are backtracking their itineraries to locate any close contacts while they were in the island. 

The couple did not venture out of their hotel room very much, according to Dr. Janet Berreman, the state's Kauai district health officer.

"Because they weren’t feeling well, they were not out and about as most visitors are. But most of the contact that they’ve had out in the community was casual contact," she said, such as passing someone in a store. There would be no risk of exposure in such cases, she said.

She advised residents who think they may have had close contact -- defined as face-to-face interaction within three feet for about 10 minutes -- would be at some risk, she said. She advised them to monitor their health closely for the next two weeks and call their doctor if they develop symptoms. 

Report: Colorado woman says she became sick after Hawaii visit

HawaiiNewsNow reports that a Colorado woman who visited Oahu, Maui and Hawaii Island between Feb 3-18 came down with the coronavirus, becoming sick on her way home.

The woman, a nurse practitioner, flew on United Airlines on Feb. 3 and stayed in Waikiki. She then attended a medical symposium at Turtle Bay Resort, then traveled to Hilo on Feb. 13 on Hawaiian Airlines and Maui on Feb. 16 before returning to Colorado on Feb. 18.

She said she has spoken to a Colorado epidemiologist but that Hawaii state officials have not contacted her. Today, Hawaii Epidemiologist Sarah Park said she spoke to her counterpart in Colorado on learning about the case and both agreed that the woman contracted the virus in her state where there is community spread.

The Turtle Bay Resort issued a statement today saying a guest testing positive for COVID-19 on return home stayed at the property more than 30 days ago from Feb. 5-9. Jerry Gibson, vice president of the resort, said those who may have come into contact with the guest are being notified and the room the individual stayed in was taken out of inventory. It was among 26 rooms already scheduled for renovation and closure for five days, Gibson noted.

"Our resort remains open and we will continue to do our part to safeguard the health of our staff, community, and guests," he said.

This is a developing story. Please return for updates.