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Maui Memorial has ‘cluster’ of 15 test positive for COVID-19

Hawaii’s sixth novel coronavirus death is a man from Maui

Maui Memorial Medical Center personnel staff a screening tent outside the emergency room on April 1. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

A cluster of 15 Maui Memorial Medical Center employees have tested positive for COVID-19, an outbreak that the state Department of Health said began around mid-March.

Officials said that testing was underway for those who may have been in close contact with the employees, with Maui Memorial also undergoing cleanings every hour and employees with symptoms being asked to stay home.

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino announced the “cluster” of 15 employees with COVID-19 Wednesday morning and later clarified that the 15 cases are not new and occurred over a period of time.

The news came on the same day that Hawaii’s sixth and latest death was announced, a Maui man over the age of 65 who had some travel history, Victorino said, adding that he wasn’t told the man’s hometown. State Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Anderson at a news conference on Oahu said the death was unattended and that the medical examiners office assisted.

This is Maui’s second death related to the coronavirus. The first Maui death was announced on Monday, an older man with underlying health conditions.

Maui Memorial Medical Center is shown.

As of noon Wednesday, Maui County reported 54 cases, including six new cases, all of which were on Maui. There remain two on Molokai — employees from Friendly Market Center who tested positive — and none on Lanai.

Statewide, Oahu has 328 cases, Hawaii island has 26 and Kauai has 18 cases. There were 25 new cases reported on Wednesday, bringing the state total to 435 cases.

Maui Health CEO Michael Rembis said at a news conference with Victorino on Wednesday afternoon that more than a dozen employees have been furloughed, as the hospital is taking precautions by keeping those employees with possible COVID-19 symptoms at home. Employees said they also get their temperature taken when they show up for work.

Rembis added that “staffing levels are very sufficient” at the hospital and that no units at the hospital are closed at this time.

On March 30, the hospital announced that it was changing its policy to allow employees and providers to wear their own masks when treating non-COVID-19 individuals and in nonclinical settings. The hospital had faced criticism from workers about not letting them wear their own gear. On Wednesday after the news of the cluster broke, some workers felt the positive cases at the hospital could have been limited if the change to allow employees to wear masks were made earlier.

Maui Health System, the Kaiser Permanente-affiliated operator of Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital and Lanai Community Hospital, said at the time of the change that it would continue to follow the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which call for hospital-supplied personal protective equipment, or PPE, to be used “per droplet and isolation precautions.”

Maui Health did not respond to questions on Wednesday on employee testing, PPE, the number of contacts the positive employees could have had with others and whether allowing workers to wear their own masks earlier could have lowered the cluster numbers.

State Department of Health officials were also questioned Wednesday at a news conference about when they discovered the cluster and why the information was not released sooner. Anderson responded that “there is no cover-up” and said that analyzing the cases is like “detective work,” as there are many different elements that come into play.

He said the first case at the hospital was in mid-March and that “many of the initial cases” were travel associated.

Employees got infected, but no one was yet linking the cases to the hospital.

The state DOH got a report Tuesday and an epidemiologist determined there was a cluster and that it was hospital-based.

“All close contacts are being tested. They are also being quarantined,” Anderson said.

Maui Health said in a news release Wednesday morning that it had notified patients and staff who have come into close contact with those employees and that the state Department of Health would be notifying others if needed.

The state also said plans are in the works to move employees with COVID-19 to a quarantine site away from their families.

“This is a reminder to everyone that the virus doesn’t discriminate and everyone is vulnerable — including those who are taking care of the community,” Gov. David Ige said.

Victorino said Wednesday morning that boxes of protective equipment had just arrived for the county and said he would direct it to the hospital.

“These are difficult times for all of us, and we are taking immediate action to assist our health care workers,” Victorino said. “Maui County will be directing any available personal protective equipment to the hospital for its staff.”

In other Maui County news:

• Victorino reminded residents that starting today, no more than two people from the same household will be allowed to travel on the road for essential activities, such as grocery shopping or visiting a doctor. He said the same penalties apply as with previous orders — one year in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.

• Today Maui County will hold a food distribution for those affected economically by COVID-19. Distribution begins at 10 a.m. at both War Memorial Gym and the South Maui Gym. There will be 300 bags for Wailuku residents and 300 for Kahului residents, along with 300 bags for South Maui residents.

• Drive-thru testing will be held for first responders and health care workers from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. today at Keopuolani Park in Kahului. Workers should bring their IDs. Testing for the general public will begin at 10 a.m. Members of the public should bring their identification along with insurance card if available, but there will be no charges. Be prepared to fill our forms and remain in the vehicle. The entrance is along Wahine Pio Avenue, and only right-hand turns into the park will be permitted.

• Drive-thru testing for Hana will take place from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, with the first hour for Hana’s essential workers, including police, fire, paramedics, health center personnel, Maui Economic Opportunity drivers and others. Testing will be at the parking lot across from the tennis court at Hana Ball Park. Priority will be given to those who have traveled outside of Hana in the past two to three weeks, those who are symptomatic and those who are living in three-generational households.

The drive-thru testing is a joint effort between the county and Dr. Scott Miscovich of Premier Medical Group, which are providing testing for free.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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