State team to review virus response at Hawaii veterans home

HILO — A state health team is expected to conduct a review of the response to a COVID-19 outbreak at a Hawaii veterans home where nine residents died after they were infected with the virus.

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said the county requested the inspection of the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Wednesday.

“Without a review, we would not know where to go,” Kim said.

Officials said 59 Yukio Okutsu residents and 20 staff members tested positive for the virus in the two weeks since two employees tested positive in late August. One employee and 14 residents have recovered.

Allison Griffiths, a spokeswoman for Avalon Health Care Group, which manages the Big Island facility, said a team from the state would be at the home this week.

The team including an infectious disease physician were expected to “provide an on-site assessment and formulate recommendations for interventions and processes to help assist and support in the outbreak,” Griffiths said.

As of Tuesday, three Yukio Okutsu residents were hospitalized at Hilo Medical Center and 33 residents were under care in a designated coronavirus area at the home.

A “professional, objective review of the whole operation must be done to ensure what we are doing is the right thing, not only for this program, but for all programs,” Kim said.

Coronavirus cases were reported Tuesday at two other Hilo care facilities.

An employee of Life Care Center of Hilo tested positive Sept. 6, while an employee at Hale Anuenue Restorative Care Center tested positive Aug. 31.

Both facilities are operated by Life Care Centers of America. Executive Director Mark Mann said all 210 staff members and every resident was tested for the virus and about 150 staff results had so far come back negative.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

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