LIHU‘E — Cruise ships docked on Thursday at Nawiliwili, releasing the usual flood of passengers onto Kaua‘i for shopping, tours and beach outings, just as the Grand Princess cruise ship did on Feb. 26.
To date, there have been 21 confirmed cases of COVID-19 linked to that specific ship, something that was on the minds of business owners on Thursday as they welcomed visitors to their shops.
While no cases of the new virus have been confirmed on Kaua‘i — even after the ship with infected passengers docked on island — business owners like Yong Cacatian, owner of Yong’s Aloha Fashion at Harbor Mall in Nawiliwili, are ramping up disinfecting efforts, trying their best to keep the virus at bay.
“I wear two gloves and I wipe everything. When someone is coughing like the lady last week, I spray and disinfect everything,” Cacatian said.
As of Thursday evening, the state Department of Health reported a total of 39 individuals who are self-monitoring with public health supervision for COVID-19. Of those, 34 are on O‘ahu, four are on Maui, and one is on Kaua‘i. These numbers fluctuate often as travelers arrive, depart, or begin and end their self-monitoring with supervision by DOH.
The state Department of Transportation confirmed Thursday there are no direct, incoming flights from Europe to the U.S. The 30-day federal ban on flights from Europe except the United Kingdom begins today at midnight.
The University of Hawai‘i also announced travel recommendations on Thursday, echoing DOH recommendations that anyone who thinks they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 should contact a health-care provider and self-quarantine for 14 days.
UH President David Lassner also announced a major switch to online classes for spring break for all campuses in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“I want to let you know that, out of concern for the safety of our students, faculty and staff, the University of Hawai‘i will be moving our classes online after spring break, effective Monday, March 23. Other changes will also be announced,” said Lassner in a Thursday announcement.
And as the state continues its COVID-19 surveillance and testing, businesses, schools, government entities and nonprofits on Kaua‘i are taking steps to proactively prevent the spread of the virus.
Schools are gearing up to take proactive measures in response to the virus as well, but the state Department of Education says, as of Thursday, the spring break schedule for DOE schools on Kaua‘i will remain unchanged. Spring break is scheduled from Monday to Friday, March 16 to 20, with students and staff returning to DOE schools Monday, March 23.
DOE suggests parents, staff, teachers and students follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and DOH guidelines for prevention of COVID-19 spread, as well as for action should anyone believe they’ve contracted the virus.
Kaua‘i schools recently canceled or shortened trips to the mainland, however, and some students have been sent home from trips early due to the virus.
Students from Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School are currently working their way back home from Washington, D.C., for instance, where they were scheduled to attend a Student Television Network convention that was canceled at the last-minute.
Those students were still making their way back to Kaua‘i as of today.
The class’s teacher, Kevin Matsunaga, said the organization had no choice but to cancel because the COVID-19 pandemic spread so quickly.
“It was unfortunate to put in all the work to practice, fundraise and prepare for the convention, only to have it canceled right before it was going to start,” Matsunaga said.
“While it was disappointing to come all this way and not be able to compete, we were fortunate enough to get here a few days early to visit some amazing sites like the National Archives, the Supreme Court, Arlington National Cemetery, and visit with our senators from Hawai‘i at the Capitol.”
Matsunaga said he’s been telling students to look at the situation as one in which “the glass is half full.”
“They were able to visit some historic sites and see artifacts that were previously only photos in books, they got to meet and make new friends, and they’ve been learning a lot at the museums we’ve visited. We’ve definitely tried to make the best of a bad situation,” he said.
State DOE Kaua‘i Complex Area Superintendent Bill Arakaki said the DOE has been following the COVID-19 updates daily and is making quick decisions to make sure students and teachers were safe while traveling out side of Hawai‘i.
“The department released an updated memo on travel guidance restrictions to the U.S. mainland and international destinations yesterday that went into effect today. Prior to that, travel restrictions followed CDC guidance for Alert Level 3 and 2 countries. This is why school trips, like the Student Television Network competition, continued as planned,” Arakaki said.
He continued: “Our administrators and teachers monitored the evolving situation and communicated contingency plans, precautions and potential schedule changes to parents prior to the trip. I want to thank the chaperones who are with these student groups for their commitment and effort to keep our students safe.”
Kamehameha Schools Kapalama announced they will host meetings on every island regarding their boarding program on Saturday, March 14. On Kaua‘i, the meeting with the KSK administrators will be at King Kaumuali‘i Elementary School at 9:30 a.m. discussing precautionary measures with boarding students and scenarios should someone be reported with the virus. Faculty advises parents to attend the meetings to ask their questions.
The domino effect of this worldwide virus has major event planners canceling events in hopes of not spreading the virus in major crowds like the Mariah Carey concert that was scheduled this month.
Meanwhile, legislators at both the state and national level are taking stances on creating relief for those out of work due to COVID-19 and on slowing or halting cruise-ship dockings in Hawai‘i.
Thursday, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Coronavirus Worker Relief Act.
“It is vital to public health that people who feel sick are able to stay home without fear of losing their job or going broke,” said Schatz. “Helping people who can’t work because of a public-health emergency is just the right thing to do.”
State Reps. Amy Perruso and Tina Wildberger called for a Hawai‘i cruise-ship moratorium on Thursday, as well as closures of schools, postponing of meetings, and social distancing.
“The entire state is bracing for the eventuality of a lockdown, which is the only way to effectively reduce the rate of community transmission,” Wildberger said Thursday.
“We could save lives if we just disallow cruise-ship passengers to disembark, and require airlines and buses to sanitize their crafts between each trip. It is up to our leaders whether they want to make the difficult decision to do that now with minimal loss of life, or later when our kupuna are dying. It doesn’t make any sense to wait.”
Stephanie Shinno, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Symptoms of COVID-19 (from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
• Shortness of breath.
The state Department of Health advises people who think they may have symptoms of COVID-19 to contact their health-care provider in advance of going to a medical facility.
• Tell your provider about your symptoms and any recent travel. Health-care providers will discuss any possible cases of COVID-19 with DOH to determine if testing is needed;
• Consider utilizing tele-health services if available;
• Avoid traveling or leaving home if you are sick, except for visiting your doctor after contacting them in advance.
The DOH recommends the following to help prevent the spread of respiratory illness:
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds;
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands;.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick;
• Stay home when you are sick;
• Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash;
• Clean and disinfect frequently-touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe;
• The CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from illnesses, including COVID-19. Keep in mind that supplies are limited, and officials need to ensure there are enough masks for front-line health-care workers. If you are sick, then wear a mask to protect the people around you;
• Prepare for the possibility that people may want to stay home or may be asked to stay home to prevent the spread of illness;
• If you have daily medication needs, have more than a week’s supply on hand, and have as much on hand as your insurance will allow you to have;
• Not everyone can afford to stock up on supplies or has the space to store them, but anything you can arrange in advance means one less inconvenience or one less trip to the store while you are sick;
• Make family plans for the possibility of school or day-care closures. Do some contingency planning in advance at the family level.