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MHS worker tests positive for COVID-19

Officials unable to disclose the facility where employee worked

A Maui Health System employee has tested positive for COVID-19 but was in “good condition” and in isolation as of Tuesday, according to the Maui County hospitals operator.

Maui Health System, which oversees Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital and Lanai Community Hospital, announced the news Tuesday but did not disclose the facility where the employee worked.

“Our best wishes go to the employee for a rapid and full recovery,” Maui Health said in a news release. “Maui Health is handling this case with the utmost respect to privacy, while also working closely with the DOH (Department of Health) to ensure that patients, employees, family, friends and anyone who has been in close contact are screened.”

Maui Health said that it would not publicly release additional details on the case for privacy reasons.

The hospital operator added that it has been “taking proactive steps to reduce the risk of infection among its employees, staff and community.” That has included asking sick employees to stay home, canceling large meetings and staff travel, increasing telework among employees, encouraging social distancing and promoting “other important preventative measures in all of our facilities.”

With a statewide “stay home, work from home” order going into effect today, Maui Health added that it would no longer allow visitors at any of its hospitals and facilities, with the exception of the pediatrics and obstetrics wards, which will be limited to one visitor per patient. All elective surgeries and procedures will also be canceled.

“This also helps to ensure we have the capacity and equipment to care for the most critically ill patients,” Maui Health said. “Patients can expect to be contacted by their doctor’s office with updated information.”

Neither the state Department of Health nor the county could disclose the facility where the employee worked.

“This is not the first health care worker we’ve identified with COVID-19,” state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park said Tuesday.

Park said that when health care workers test positive, the department works “immediately” with the facility and the employee to identify all their work activities and whom they may have had close contact with. Park said that if employees are not notified that they had close contact with the person, “they should just continue to practice appropriate infection control.”

“That is, if they have a patient that has respiratory symptoms, a cough, or a sneeze, that they should make sure to put a mask on that person to protect others from that person, as well as if they have to treat that person, wear appropriate protective gear, which is a mask plus eye protection covering all their mucus membranes,” Park said.

On Tuesday, the department also had to walk back its announcement that Hawaii had seen its first fatality from COVID-19. The adult Oahu resident had died on Friday, and test results from a clinical commercial lab were inconclusive. Follow-up testing Monday by the State Laboratories Division confirmed COVID-19, however, health officials found an “irregularity” in processing the sample and had to retest the results. The second test came back negative.

The state said Tuesday evening that “internal communication” of the test resulted in the report being misread.

Health Director Bruce Anderson said the focus was to get information out in a timely manner. He called it an unprecedented situation and said the state is still developing best practices.

“I accept all responsibility for not verifying reporting procedures,” he said. “We’re immediately instituting measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again. My condolences to the family and friends of the person who passed away and our apologies for any undue anxiety this caused.”

On Tuesday, there were 14 new cases reported, taking the statewide total to 90, with 64 in Honolulu County, 12 in Maui County, five in Hawaii County, four in Kauai County and five cases from unknown locations. Health officials clarified that a case was duplicated Monday, so there were actually 76 that day. And, one case previously thought to have been on the Big Isle was actually on Kauai.

Of the total cases, 70 were Hawaii residents, 14 were from out of state and six are still unknown. Six of the cases have been hospitalized up to this point, while 25 have not needed to and the status of 59 is unknown. Travel has been pegged as the risk factor in 57 cases, while one is attributed to community spread and the risk factors of 32 are unknown.

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

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