LIHU‘E — Hawai‘i has confirmed its first case of COVID-19 in an O‘ahu man who had been on a cruise ship from California to Mexico.
That ship had other infected passengers, and the man fell ill after flying home to O‘ahu from Mexico after the Grand Princess cruise that was scheduled for Feb. 11 to 21, deputy state epidemiologist Sarah Kemble told The Associated Press.
He did not have symptoms of the disease while he was traveling home, which means he wasn’t at risk for transmitting the disease to others at the time, Kemble said.
Gov. David Ige said officials do not believe that the virus is spreading in Hawai‘i as of Friday.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Health has reduced the number of people on Kaua‘i who are in self-quarantine to one.
Also on Friday, Lt. Gov. Josh Green was on Kaua‘i, visiting Wilcox Medical Center in a statewide analysis of the health-care sector’s ability to accommodate, treat and quarantine potential COVID-19 patients. Recently appointed as Ige’s liaison between the health-care sector and the state, Green has been busy analyzing the strengths and needs of the industry.
In a post-tour interview with The Garden Island newspaper, Green said he thinks Wilcox Medical Center has enough beds and rooms to quarantine and treat COVID-19 patients should an outbreak occur on Kaua‘i.
“At least for now,” Green said.
Friday, he evaluated Wilcox’s six quarantine rooms, the hospital’s supplies and employees, and said Wilcox might have some advantages in Hawai‘i’s preparation for COVID-19.
“You have all single beds at Wilcox, which is what we want, because we don’t want to put two people in a room in quarantine and, so far, the PPE — personal protective equipment — is the best I’ve seen,” Green said.
He also evaluated Wilcox for testing abilities and strategized ways to create a faster way to test patients and to keep them from collecting in waiting rooms, where a virus could easily spread.
“We need to get a system that can quickly test people for flu, or do the COVID-19 test, and then send people home,” Green said. “We have the technology now. We can call with results.”
Testing for both sicknesses helps provide answers, Green said, because it’s rare to see a person with two upper-respiratory sicknesses at the same time. Those who test positive for the flu have a very low chance of also having COVID-19, Green said.
The state has a laboratory set up on O‘ahu that can process 250 coronavirus tests per week and can process up to 500 in an emergency. The COVID-19 test takes about three hours to complete, versus the flu test, which can be done in a couple of minutes.
Tests from the neighbor islands have to be sent to O‘ahu and processed there.
“We’ll call with test results the next day for those on neighbor islands,” Green said. “But, we’re working on getting those results within the same day.”
And while Green is helping to bolster the health-care sector, other state officials are investigating who had close contact with those who tested positive from the Grand Princess cruise ship.
The same cruise ship took another voyage from California to Hawai‘i after the trip to Mexico, bringing some of the same passengers and crew members with it.
The state DOH said the vessel made port calls to Nawiliwili on Kaua‘i on Feb. 26, Honolulu on Feb. 27, Lahaina on Maui on Feb. 28, and Hilo on Hawai‘i Island on Feb. 29.
The department said it’s working to identify who disembarked at each port and identify who had close contact with those individuals.
The department said “close contact” is defined as “close, personal, face-to-face contact for more than 10 minutes.” Paying a bill at checkout would not be considered prolonged close contact, it said.
State DOH Director Bruce Anderson said the agency wants to begin survey tests of people who have respiratory illnesses to see if any of them might have a case of unrecognized COVID-19.
Green said his goals as he works to manage the COVID-19 response are twofold:
“To have a limited spread in Hawai‘i and the lowest fatality rate, and secondly to minimize the impact to the state’s economy,” he said. “I’m also working hard to get the supplies we need (from the federal government), our share and more than our share.”
Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, shortness of breath and extreme exhaustion.
Good hygiene and thorough hand-washing, staying home when you’re sick, and avoiding person-to-person contact are ways to minimize the risk of catching COVID-19.
Jessica Else, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or email@example.com.