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Hospital treats 1st case

COVID-19 patient in isolation at MMMC

Maui Memorial personnel staff a screening tent outside the emergency room Wednesday afternoon. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Maui Memorial Medical Center is treating its first COVID-19 patient in one of its isolation rooms, hospital operator Maui Health System reported Wednesday.

Appropriate isolation precautions are in place, Maui Health said in a news release. The hospital did not release any more information about the patient or treatment protocols.

“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 assessed and the extent of their exposure is reviewed,” the news release said.

Maui Health, a Kaiser company, oversees Maui Memorial, Kula Hospital and Lanai Community Hospital, with Maui Memorial being the only acute care facility in Maui County.

Maui Health said that it has been taking proactive steps to mitigate exposure to patients, caregivers and the community. This includes asking sick employees to stay home, increasing the use of telework, encouraging social distancing and other preventative measures.

Since Wednesday, no visitors have been allowed at any hospital facility, except in the pediatrics and obstetrics wards, which are limited to one visitor per patient.

In other health-related coronavirus news, Hawaii is among the top three states per capita for coronavirus testing in the nation, led by New York and Washington state, state health officials said Wednesday.

Aggressive testing, along with the ability to seal access to Hawaii, puts the state in a unique position to fight the virus, according to state Health Director Bruce Anderson. So far, 10,462 tests have been done by state and private labs since Feb. 28.

“I think we’re in good shape to try to keep case numbers down,” Anderson said at a news conference.

Still, health officials said they expect things to get worse before they get better. On Wednesday, the state recorded its largest single-day spike of confirmed coronavirus cases –34, including one minor.

Of the new cases, one is on Maui (now at 26); 25 are on Oahu (182); three are on Big Island (18); and five are pending counties of residence. Kauai remained at 12.

The state total was 258 presumptive or confirmed cases as of noon Wednesday, including two residents diagnosed outside of Hawaii and 18 under investigation.

The spike comes a day after Hawaii’s first coronavirus-related death was announced. The elderly Oahu man died Monday night.

After completing a review of the case, Anderson said Wednesday that it has been determined that the man’s death was consistent with and was likely caused by coronavirus. Testing will be repeated, but the results are expected to stand, he said.

The man was likely exposed to the virus during a trip to Las Vegas, where the illness is widespread, he said.

Responding to a question from The Maui News, Anderson confirmed that Hawaii does have a low mortality rate for the coronavirus. Typically, the death rate is two or three per hundred confirmed cases, he said, which should put Hawaii at five or six deaths.

He attributed the low death rate to the “excellent” health care system in Hawaii and residents who are aware of and recognize the disease early. People are getting treatment sooner.

“We can still expect more deaths; there’s no question,” he said. “We have generally an older population in Hawaii. I think we’ve generally done well to keep the death rate down.”

Anderson hailed the mandatory 14-day quarantines for travelers from the Mainland and going interisland, the latter of which took effect Wednesday.

Of the state’s 34 new cases, 26 are residents, one is a visitor and seven are pending investigation. Of the state’s 258 confirmed or presumptive cases, 194 are residents and 20 are visitors. Since the end of February, 80 individuals have been released from isolation.

“We’re seeing far fewer visitors, including returning residents coming back to Hawaii at this point in time,” Anderson said.

Health officials expect to see an uptick in the number of cases, but diagnoses will shift away from “imported cases” to cases with no travel history. So far, those cases are limited to local transmission on Oahu.

Anderson said Hawaii’s coronavirus peak is “impossible to predict at this time.” Some models project a few weeks and others forecast a few months.

Officials will be looking for a decrease in cases over 14 days or more before considering relaxing some of the restrictions. For now, all of the mitigation measures put in place are extremely important, Anderson said.

“We have an opportunity in Hawaii that no other state has. We are an island state, we can cut off our borders,” Anderson said. “The governor has essentially done that, not only shut off our borders and kept the disease from coming to us and also, of course, restricted travel within our state so as not to spread the disease any more than necessary.”

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

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