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MMMC: Another employee tests positive for virus

Officials say case not related to recently closed cluster

A Maui Memorial Medical Center employee has tested positive for COVID-19, sparking concerns about a resurgence of cases at the hospital, though both Maui Health and state officials maintained that the cluster has been shut down.

Maui Health spokeswoman Tracy Dallarda said Sunday that the employee, who worked in a ward for COVID-19 patients, received an antibody test from a community provider May 18.

“Once we learned the employee’s antibody test detected the virus, we immediately sent the employee for a COVID swab test in our emergency department, and that subsequently came back positive yesterday,” she said. “The employee is asymptomatic and has been sent home to quarantine.”

Dallarda said that Maui Health is working with the state Department of Health to do contact tracing within the community and the hospital. Because the tracing process is ongoing, Dallarda wasn’t sure how many people may be involved.

“Patients and employees who may have had contact with this health care worker are being notified and will be tested, as necessary,” she said.

The latest reported case comes in the wake of the Health Department’s announcement Tuesday that the cluster at Maui Memorial is considered closed. The outbreak had spread to a total of 36 staff and 21 patients, according to department data as of Friday.

“It’s not at all related to the cluster,” Dallarda said when asked Sunday. “All of the contact tracing and testing related to the cluster has been completed and closed.”

The Health Department also said that there were “no changes in the status of the MMMC cluster investigation which closed last week.” According to the department, the employee was last sick in February and had no symptoms as of Sunday.

Dallarda said the employee had worked in a “warm unit” of the hospital that was opened to care for COVID-positive and suspected patients. The unit was closed May 14 and was converted back to a medical surgical unit.

“The Department of Health considers this a low-risk exposure, as hospital employees and patients are wearing masks and the health care worker wore appropriate personal protective equipment,” Dallarda said.

When asked what equipment the employees and patients had been wearing, Dallarda explained that while it was a warm unit, “PPE usage included N95 mask, face shield and/or goggles, gown, gloves, bouffant for head and shoe covers.” Once the unit was converted back to a medical surgical unit and no longer had suspected or positive COVID patients, “the use of PPE changes to what is appropriate to keep patient and employee safe for that level of care.”

“At this time there are no concerns that this is part of a new cluster for many reasons: there is more understanding of this virus now and many processes and protocols have been put into place to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Dallarda said.

These new policies include universal masking for patients, employees and providers; appropriate PPE usage and frequent training on use; daily COVID-19 screenings; wide-net COVID-19 testing for high-risk units and systematic disinfecting of all areas within the hospital, she added.

On Saturday, the Health Department reported one new case in Maui County and none statewide on Sunday.

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

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