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Maui Medical provider tests positive

Provider has worked exclusively at Maui Memorial Medical Center since Dec. 31

Maui Memorial Medical Center is shown April 1. A Maui Medical Group provider who has worked exclusively at the hospital for the past four months has tested positive for COVID-19. The Maui News MATTHEW THAYER photo

A Maui Medical Group provider who has worked exclusively at Maui Memorial Medical Center for the past four months has tested positive for COVID-19, according to officials with both the hospital and the medical group.

The provider was tested for COVID-19 two weeks ago by Maui Medical Group and was asymptomatic at the time, with results coming back negative, hospital operator Maui Health System said in a news release Monday afternoon. However, the provider was tested again Friday, and a positive result came back Sunday. The state Department of Health has been notified and both organizations are actively working with the department.

“Since Dec. 31, this person has exclusively worked at Maui Memorial Medical Center,” Maui Medical Group Administrator Cliff Alakai told The Maui News on Monday evening. “This person has had no contact with outpatient physicians, our other employees or patients. It’s all in the hospital.”

Alakai said that Maui Medical Group tests hospital-based providers every two weeks. The provider finished a shift Friday and was reminded by the medical director to be tested. Alakai said the provider “didn’t have significant symptoms,” and it wasn’t clear whether the headache and fatigue the individual was feeling was due to the virus or wearing an N95 mask and working in the hospital all week.

For confidentiality reasons, Alakai could not say what type of health care worker the provider is.

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said during a news conference Monday afternoon that the case was related to the ongoing cluster at the hospital. However, Maui Health spokeswoman Tracy Dallarda said later that the hospital still was investigating. Dallarda said that during initial contact tracing for the cluster, “the provider was not identified as having contact with any positive COVIDs.”

“With this new provider positive, the contact tracing team is investigating all possibilities,” she said.

Alakai added that “nobody can know for sure where it came from, but what I do know is he only works at the hospital, and he’s very fastidious.”

“I don’t know where else it came from,” Alakai said.

Initial investigations Monday morning verified that the provider always wore appropriate personal protective equipment, including N95 masks when appropriate for patient care at the hospital, Maui Health said. Because of this and increased safety measures at the hospital, Maui Health said the exposure risk was likely low.

“The current information we have is that this community provider, the staff and patients were wearing appropriate masks, which puts this situation at a lower-risk exposure according to CDC guidelines,” Maui Health Chief Medical Director Dr. David Ulin said in a statement. “Our Emergency Operations Center team is working with the Department of Health and following their recommendations on contact tracing and testing.”

According to an email sent on behalf of the Emergency Operations Center on Sunday, a team has been investigating potential patient and employee contact with the provider on the Molokai East, Molokai South, Maui North, Maui East and Lanai North wings of the hospital. Dallarda said all are medical surgical units except for Lanai North, which is an outpatient treatment center.

The email added that “the patients that we are aware of that were in contact with provider are being transferred to 5 East to be isolated, closely monitored, tested and retested.”

Dallarda said that 5 East is not a critical care unit but is being used as an isolation area. She did not know how many patients had been transferred there.

Maui Health said the contact tracing team aims to notify employees within 24 hours whether they’ve been exposed and will help to establish a plan to monitor and care for them, which will include testing.

Maui Health also said it has put in place “enhanced employee health services, which includes screening and testing for any staff members who are experiencing any COVID-like symptoms.” Additional benefits for employees who are asked to self-isolate or quarantine at home include paid leave.

Meanwhile at Maui Medical Group, Alakai said that clinics have been taking precautions, such as requiring face masks since March, shifting to telemedicine and cleaning clinics twice a day. Maui Medical Group also has a triage testing center in Wailuku and has tested more than 1,000 people since March 12, of which 20 have been positive. The three positive cases since March 30 have all been related to the hospital, including the recently announced provider, Alakai said.

“The people of Maui have done a tremendous job in keeping the infection in check,” Alakai said, explaining that many of the medical group’s first results were travel related, and that cases have slowed since visitors began leaving.

“What they’ve done to keep the community spread down is just tremendous,” he said.

Alakai urged people to continue consulting with their physicians during the pandemic, “because when this is done or when this passes, we don’t want you to be delinquent in your medical health.”

On Monday, the number of cases in Maui County rose by one to 113. The state Joint Information Center said that the new positive case was an employee of Maui Memorial and that “the source of infection is unknown and under investigation at this time.” However, Dallarda said that the case was actually the Maui Medical Group provider. The information center could not be immediately reached for clarification Monday evening.

The DOH said Saturday that the Maui Memorial cluster was up to 57 people — 37 staff members and 20 patients — and provided no new updates on numbers as of Monday.

Statewide, there are now 607 positive cases, including 396 on Oahu, 113 in Maui County (including two on Molokai), 70 on Hawaii island, 21 on Kauai and seven residents who have been diagnosed out of state.

Late Sunday night and Monday, the state also reported two more deaths, a man and woman who both lived on Oahu and were over 65 years old with underlying health conditions. The man had been hospitalized since early March, the woman since early April.

There have now been 16 deaths — 11 on Oahu and five on Maui.

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

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