Restaurant had 65 COVID-19 contacts

Merriman’s Maui had outbreak; only 3 confirmed cases

Merriman’s Maui in Kapalua stepped forward Wednesday to say that it is the restaurant mentioned by a Health Department official as having COVID-19 cases among its employees, though the outbreak is not as widespread as originally announced.

Three workers tested positive for the coronavirus at the restaurant; about 65 people were potentially exposed to the virus, DOH officials clarified Wednesday. The group of cases has since been deemed too small to be a cluster and a “very low” risk to public health.

A day earlier, Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang said there were 65 confirmed COVID-19 cases tied to a Maui restaurant cluster “a while ago.”

“I apologize. I confused confirmed cases with contacts,” Pang said Wednesday. “To me, they’re treated the same, and you try to isolate the same.”

He said he was discussing the restaurant Tuesday in the context of “outbreaks and different kinds of outbreaks.”

Sara Hauptman, Maui District public health educator, said that the name of the restaurant would be disclosed because epidemiologists have determined that the three positive cases did not pose a high risk to public health.

“It’s a very low, nearly nonexistent risk to public health,” she said. “So we determined that we would not like to release the name of the establishment.”

But Wednesday night, Merriman’s announced that it was the restaurant.

“We took a proactive approach in instructing all employees not to come to work sick during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Cristina Schenk, chief executive officer of Merriman’s Restaurants in a statement from the county. “Following this instruction, three employees called out sick on March 12, 13 and 16. We made the decision to close our restaurant to full service dining on March 17 and closed take out service a few days later.

“Throughout this period of time, we aggressively sanitized all high-touch points, including menus, tables and door knobs.”

The employees sought testing and received positive COVID-19 results on March 27, she said. By that time though, they had recovered and did not need hospitalization.

“We are so grateful to our employees for going into self-quarantine immediately once they were sick,” she said. “Thanks to their proactive behavior, this did not spread further or put the public at risk.”

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino thanked Merriman’s Restaurants “for coming forward on their own accord.”

“We are grateful they did not allow any employees to come to work while sick or symptomatic and that they closed their restaurant well before test results were returned,” he said. “When businesses follow best practices during this pandemic, they protect our entire Maui County community.”

Hauptman on Wednesday said the three cases are too few to be deemed a cluster, which she defined as several cases from one source point, such as ones at Maui Memorial Medical Center on Maui or at McDonald’s on the Big Island. 

It was unclear the threshold at which an incident is determined to be a cluster. Maui Memorial Medical Center’s outbreak began in mid-March and reached 15 cases when it was reported April 8 as a cluster.

When asked why the cases tied to the restaurant had not been disclosed earlier, Hauptman said that the incident had proven not to warrant public concern.

“At this point in time in considering that those three positives from the one restaurant establishment is over a month old at this point, and we do not want the public to be concerned about it that at all because it has been thoroughly investigated and determined to not be a cluster,” she said.

There were six new Hawaii COVID-19 cases (none in Maui County), bringing the state total to 592 as of noon Wednesday, according to the DOH.

The new cases include three in Honolulu County, now at 388, and three in Hawaii County, now at 67.

Maui County remained at 110 cases, and Kauai County stayed at 21.

Deaths remain at 12, seven on Oahu and five on Maui.

Out of the reported coronavirus cases, 63 individuals needed hospitalization and 444 have been released from isolation.

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

* There is a correction from the original published from version on April 21, 2020.


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