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Flight attendant is Maui’s first case of COVID-19

Canadian woman self-isolated at Lahaina hotel while awaiting coronavirus test result

Gov. David Ige speaks during a press conference on COVID-19 on Oahu on Saturday.

An Air Canada flight attendant who developed symptoms of COVID-19 after arriving on Maui is the island’s first confirmed case of the virus, Gov. David Ige announced Sunday afternoon.

The woman is believed to be a Canadian citizen who arrived on Maui on March 8 and developed symptoms March 9. State officials said that they did not have the woman’s flight information and that she was not sick while she traveled.

“We believe that risk to any passengers on the previous flight is low,” Ige said during a news conference on Oahu.

Ige said that the woman was exposed to a confirmed case in Germany on March 4. After being notified of the exposure and developing symptoms, the woman self-isolated at the Royal Lahaina Resort. A sample was collected Wednesday, and after results came back positive for COVID-19, the woman was moved by first responders into isolation at a Lahaina clinic.

The Royal Lahaina said Sunday afternoon that the woman was in contact with the state Department of Health, and that the resort did not learn of her condition until the department told them Saturday night.

A United Airlines jet makes its final approach to Kahului Airport on Saturday morning. An Indiana couple who traveled on United Airlines to Maui on March 2 later tested positive for COVID-19 while on Kauai. And, an Air Canada flight attendant who arrived on Maui on March 8 became the island’s first case of COVID-19 after results came back positive Saturday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“The guest was immediately taken off the hotel property and quarantined in an isolated location, and is recovering,” the resort said. “As a flight attendant who was aware she may have been exposed to the virus, she took precautions to isolate herself from staff and guests.”

The woman stayed at the hotel from March 8 to Saturday in self-quarantine and did not visit any common areas, the resort stated. No one at the hotel came in close contact with her, and no one was under self-quarantine as of Sunday evening.

“We have cleaned and sanitized all areas of the resort according to CDC and health department standards and have also stepped up cleaning efforts in the individual’s room and surrounding areas,” the resort added.

When asked why the woman self-isolated at a high-traffic location, DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo said that “the flight attendant was advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine in case her tests were positive.”

“She stayed in the hotel room to self-quarantine as advised by a health care provider,” Okubo said Sunday afternoon. “When her test result came back positive, she was contacted and moved to an isolation facility.”

Okubo did not know where the woman had flown from March 8, and said that the department was still seeking information on where else she may have gone while on Maui.

Air Canada could not be immediately reached for comment late Sunday evening.

Kauai cases visited Maui

In addition to the flight attendant, Clinical Labs of Hawaii reported two other positive test results Saturday afternoon — an Oahu resident who traveled to Colorado and another Oahu resident who returned from a family trip to Florida. The residents and their families are being asked to stay at home.

This now brings the total number of cases in Hawaii to seven. Over the weekend, two other cases were reported in an Indiana couple who showed symptoms while on Maui from March 2 to 8 and tested positive for COVID-19 during their stay on Kauai from March 9 to 13.

Shortly after flying to Maui on United Airlines, “Case A” developed a fever, cough and shortness of breath, Ige said Saturday. On March 4, “Case A” visited an urgent care facility and was given a rapid flu test that turned out negative. On the same day, “Case B” started to feel sick and went to an urgent care facility on March 7. Both traveled to Kauai on Hawaiian Airlines Flight 149 on March 8.

While on Kauai, “Case A” was seen at an urgent care facility and prescribed antibiotics on March 9. The same person went to Wilcox Memorial Hospital on Thursday and told health care professionals that they had had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Samples were taken Thursday, and the couple tested positive Friday night. They were placed in isolation.

Okubo said that the couple had stayed at the Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club in Ka’anapali. Edward Kinney, global vice president of Marriott Vacations Worldwide, said Sunday evening that the Kauai Marriott resort management team was notified late Friday evening and “immediately” told the Maui and corporate teams.

“The team in Maui were not made aware of any symptoms during the guests’ stay on Maui,” Kinney said.

He added that “associates that were believed to be in proximity” to the guests are self-quarantining but are not experiencing any symptoms. No specific area of the hotel is being closed off at this time.

“We are following a strict series of protocols that include all guidelines provided by federal and state health authorities,” Kinney said.

Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Alex Da Silva said Sunday that crew members and agents who served the flight from Maui to Kauai “are doing well,” and that the airline has provided flight information to the CDC, “which determines who needs to be notified through designated health agencies.”

“While our airport agents and crew members are trained to identify travelers who may be ill, we highly encourage guests who feel unwell to please alert our team members so that we may properly support them,” Da Silva said.

Three health care workers who treated the couple — two on Maui and one on Kauai — were not wearing appropriate personal protective equipment and would be in self-isolation, according to the governor.

“Based on the most recent information I have, the health care workers do not have symptoms and are in self-quarantine, but there’s always the possibility that things could change,” Okubo said Sunday afternoon. “The health care workers were not told by the individuals (who may have not known yet themselves) that they were recently exposed to a COVID-19 case.”

Cases related to travel

With all confirmed cases so far related to travel, Ige was asked during the news conference about possibly banning travel to Hawaii. The governor said that he doesn’t have the authority to do so and asked travelers who display symptoms to get tested and self-isolate. He explained that it’s difficult to screen for the virus at the airport.

“There are thousands of people that go through the airports each and every day,” Ige said. “So again, it really is about everyone in our community being responsible, travelers included. If you are ill, you should stay put at home.”

Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Anderson added that other areas of the globe that have tried to close borders have found it to be “largely ineffective in the long run.” While it may postpone the introduction of the disease, what really helps is social distancing, Anderson said. He pointed out that two of the recent cases were Hawaii residents who would’ve come here anyway.

Ige also announced that public school spring break will be extended a week, with students returning March 30. Starting today, the state Department of Education will be canceling all events of 100 people or more. Graduation ceremonies have not yet been changed, and scheduling announcements will be made at a future date.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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