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Molokai deals with first COVID-19

Grocery store where patient worked sanitized

Kualapuu Market in Hoolehua, Molokai, is sanitized by a worker from H20 Process Systems from Oahu as a precautionary measure. The Oahu company also worked to clean Friendly Market Center, where the first COVID-19 Molokai patient works. Even if other stores did not have COVID-19 cases involving workers, they were sanitizing their businesses Friday, said state Rep. Lynn DeCoite. — LYNN DECOITE photo

Friendly Market Center, where Molokai’s first confirmed COVID-19 individual works, closed Friday to be sanitized and cleaned as residents coped with the reality that the potentially fatal virus had reached their isolated and close-knit community.

“I basically said a short prayer,” said Kimberly Mikami Svetin, president of Molokai Drugs, when finding out about the first case on her island Thursday.

“I don’t go to church, but I pray a lot. It could have been anyone. You can’t put blame on anyone. It could be anyone. It’s such a communicable disease. That’s why places like Hana and Molokai are getting it,” Svetin said Friday as her family business in Kaunakakai remained open as an essential operation.

“I’m totally scared,” said Maricel Kanemitsu of Take’s Variety Store — True Value Hardware, also in Kaunakakai.

“Everyone shops there, both grocery stores,” she said of Friendly Market Center and Misaki’s grocery store.

Workers at Take’s Variety Store – True Value Hardware in Kaunakakai sport their masks and gloves. From left (with a black mask) is Nancy Viernes, along with owners Maricel and Garrick Kanemitsu and worker Clyde LenWai (green shirt). — Photo courtesy of Maricel Kanemitsu

Kanemitsu said she and her husband decided to keep their store open because they support state and county jobs and provide cleaning and household products.

“Basically the community, you know, got a reality check, they realize the situation is serious,” said state Rep. Lynn DeCoite, who is also an island resident.

This shows how everyone should have listened and followed the directive to stay at home and social distance, she said. Now residents, including her son who is a millennial, are starting to heed the government’s advice and orders.

On Thursday, news broke of Molokai’s first coronavirus patient, who had recently returned from Las Vegas. The person returned to Molokai on March 17 and has since been transferred to Oahu for treatment at Queen’s Medical Center.

The person did go to work for two days after returning from Las Vegas, DeCoite said. She believed that the 50 workers at Friendly Market Center, one of the larger grocery stores on the island, would be tested.

DeCoite called for compassion for the patient and the patient’s family, who have been receiving threats.

“We are one family. We have to learn to accept the good and the bad,” she said.

She hoped the grocery stores would not try to reopen quickly but devise a plan to reduce visits, such as through filling orders by phone. Otherwise, they may be back to square one again.

A message for comment left at Friendly Market on Friday was not returned. Two of the company’s top officials could not be reached by cellphone Friday.

But a news release from state Sen. J. Kalani English, whose district includes Molokai, contained quotes from Friendly Market Center CEO Kyle Okimoto.

“We have temporarily closed the market and will sanitize it before reopening,” he said. “Our family has served the Molokai community for three years, and we will continue to support our Molokai ohana and work together to slow the virus from spreading on our island.”

English said the news is “deeply concerning to the Molokai community,” and officials were working with Molokai General Hospital to conduct drive-thru screenings for people who came in contact with the individual.

Molokai General already has been conducting screenings and testing since early March, said Jan Kalanihuia, president of Molokai General Hospital.

“In light of recent heightened awareness within the community, we designated hours to make the best use of our staff and to provide streamlined drive-thru testing,” she said.

Testing is available 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday. It is by appointment only through the Molokai General Hospital COVID-19 infoline at (808) 553-3121.

County Council Member Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, who holds the Molokai residency seat, said on Facebook that screening and testing also will be done 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday at Kulana Oiwi.

When asked about the hospital’s capability and capacity to treat coronavirus patients, Kalanihuia said the facility is “the safety net of this community.”

“We are able to treat COVID-19 patients that require a lower level of care,” she said. “We are a first tier member of The Queen’s Health Systems, and they are very supportive of our hospital and our community. Should a patient require a higher level of care, we are able to transfer the patient to Queen’s on Oahu.”

Meanwhile, businesses around Molokai shut down Friday to sanitize and clean. Oahu-based H20 Process Systems was on island to sanitize Friendly Market Center first and then other business through an effort organized by local leaders.

Misaki’s also closed for cleaning by the Oahu company on Friday. It will reopen today.

Kevin Misaki, general manager of Misaki’s, said that since the first case was reported Thursday, “you can tell the whole island is jumping, and everybody is scared.”

“We have a lot of different kinds of reactions,” he said. “Besides being scared, some people are angry. We’re a small community, and through the coconut wireless, news spreads very fast.”

He said the grocery store still is working on finalizing hours, but the plan is to open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 9 a.m. to noon Sundays, though the market will be closed the next two Sundays.

Special kupuna shopping hours will be held from 8 to 9 a.m. Tuesday and Friday. The store also is moving to phone and walk-up orders.

“Everything is on a learning curve here,” Misaki said.

He said traffic and business definitely has slowed since the county’s stay-at-home order went into effect. Businesses are struggling to get the high-demand items, like toilet paper and canned meats.

But Misaki felt there will be enough supplies for Molokai during the quarantine, and even if they did run low, people are used to living off the land.

Lori-Lei Rawlins-Crivello, whose family operates the Rawlins Service gas station in town, said they, too, had the Oahu company clean the business. Rawlins Service closed from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for sanitizing and planned to reopen from 3 to 7 p.m. Friday.

Rawlins-Crivello said the gas station will be cutting back hours starting today, operating from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. On Sunday, they’ll be closed.

Rawlins will only sell fuel, propane and bags of ice. Customers will need to wear masks to enter the store to make purchases if paying by cash, credit or debit card.

Rawlins-Crivello said that even before the first case was reported, “front-line” businesses have been taking precautions. At the gas station, workers spray down equipment after customers pump gas. Disinfectant and hand sanitizer were placed at the door for customers, who were limited to no more than four and later one at a time in the store. The gas station also cut back its workforce for safety reasons.

At Molokai Drugs employees are wearing masks, which sold out Friday, Svetin said. She said getting a refill of supplies is tough for all businesses.

The store has been promoting delivery for Home Pumehana’s elderly residents so kupuna don’t have to leave the house. They also are doing curbside pickup for those who are sick and shouldn’t come into the store.

Planning on how to handle COVID-19 as an essential business came about a month ago, Svetin said. She worked with the Hawaii Employers Council and developed a policy calling for employees to quarantine themselves if traveling off-island. Some workers traveled to Washington state and Las Vegas.

“We put a lot of things in place even before this happened,” she said.

At Take’s Variety Store, Kanemitsu said they were handling customers curbside. And after every transaction with a customer, they dip their gloves in a bleach and soap mixture.

They are taking orders over the phone and preferred credit cards but noted that not all residents have one.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com and Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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COVID-19 AT A GLANCE

Latest developments:

• DOH reports third death in state, an older Oahu resident who returned from Washington state.

• Maui County reported nine new cases Friday, the highest daily total to date. That puts the county total at 36.

• 319 confirmed or presumptive positive cases in Hawaii: 237 in Honolulu County, 20 on Hawaii island, 13 on Kauai.

• First case confirmed in Hana.

• CDC and the state now urging all people wear nonmedical face masks when going in public.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and State of Hawaii travel recommendations:

• Entry of foreign nationals from these locations has been suspended: China, Iran, most European countries along with the United Kingdom and Ireland.

• Avoid all nonessential travel to all global destinations.

• Older adults and people of any age with serious chronic medical conditions should consider postponing nonessential travel.

• All arrivals to Hawaii, visitors and returning residents, as well as all interisland flyers, are required by law to quarantine for 14 days in hotel room or home.

• Defer cruise travel worldwide.

Prevention includes:

• Getting a flu shot.

• Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after nose-blowing, coughing or sneezing.

• If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.

• Avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

• Avoid contact with people who are sick; stay home if sick.

For more information:

• Call 211 or text (877) 275-6569 for general questions about coronavirus.

• Hawaii Health Department: hawaiicovid19.com.

• CDC: Coronavirus.gov.

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