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DOH: ‘No increased risk’ for travelers as Oahu cases mount

Oahu tallies nearly 50 cases since beginning of June

Despite a recent upswing in COVID-19 cases on Oahu, the state health director said he would have “no hesitation in traveling” from the Neighbor Islands as the state prepares to lift the 14-day quarantine on interisland travel on Tuesday.

“The risk from moving from one island to another here is essentially the same,” Health Director Dr. Bruce Anderson said during the state’s news conference Friday. “There’s no increased risk from coming from Big Island, Maui or Kauai to Oahu as there is going back and forth from Oahu to these islands. We’re fortunate to have very low rates of disease in our state.”

Anderson pointed out that the governor and the mayors are working on a screening program for interisland travel that will allow for temperature checks and testing opportunities for those with a fever. He said there was no need for Neighbor Island residents to get tested after returning from Oahu and that they should only do so if they have symptoms.

On Friday, 15 new cases were reported in Hawaii, the largest daily total this month and an unusually high count after weeks of mostly single-digit upticks. All of the cases were on Oahu and included six children and nine adults. Ten cases were from the same household, Anderson said.

“The other cases were all associated with previous cases or investigations that we have underway, which is reassuring in many ways in that we aren’t seeing a lot of widespread illness,” Anderson said. “The cases we’re seeing are associated with known clusters of cases or other known cases here on Oahu.”

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino was also supportive of lifting the interisland quarantine requirement despite the recent increase on Oahu, which has recorded 47 new cases since the beginning of June.

“Even though cases have slowly risen in Oahu, I still think it’s time that we start to reopen the state,” Victorino said during the county’s news conference Friday. “I would like to see all of you have a chance to enjoy your family and friends from Neighbor Islands. At the same time, be vigilant. Watch where you’re going, watch who you’re dealing with. Keep your mask on, . . . as much physical distancing as possible and finally, good hygiene.”

The quarantine rules will officially be lifted at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. Travelers will be required to fill out a new health form before boarding and will also be subject to thermal screening; anyone with a temperature above 100.4 degrees will not be allowed to board. Gov. David Ige said Friday that more information about the new process would be announced in the next few days.

Ige also said an announcement on safely reopening transpacific travel is upcoming. He’s appointed Anderson and Lt. Gov. Josh Green to lead a committee investigating new methods to test transpacific travelers and to create a system of testing and screening to reopen travel on a limited basis.

The governor and Mike McCartney, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, are also looking into “international travel corridors” to places that have similar levels of cases as Hawaii, such as Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia.

“We intend and probably will have to maintain the 14-day mandatory quarantine even as we bring and reopen travel from around the Pacific,” Ige said. “We need to continue to quarantine travelers who are unwilling to follow our increased standards, because we know it’s important to keep our community safe.”

On Thursday, 1,655 passengers arrived in the islands, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Of those, 94 arrived on Maui, including 38 visitors, 36 residents, 13 crew members, six relocating to Hawaii and one in transit.

In other developments:

• The University of Hawaii John. A Burns School of Medicine is seeking COVID-19 patients for the first clinical trial in Hawaii on potential treatment for the virus. Dr. Cecilia Shikuma, professor of medicine at JABSOM and the study’s lead investigator, said Friday that the 21-day trial will focus on 40 adult outpatients newly diagnosed with COVID-19. Participants will be given a placebo (a sugar pill) or telmisartan, an FDA-approved medication commonly used for blood pressure control. They will take their temperature and blood pressure at home.

Shikuma said that while a vaccine would ultimately prevent the disease, researchers are looking for drugs that could minimize the severity of the lung and heart complications of COVID-19 that have forced people to be hospitalized. For more information, contact Cris Milne at (808) 692-1335 or email cmilne@hawaii.edu.

• At two long-term care facilities on Oahu where three workers recently tested positive, follow-up tests of other staff have so far come back negative, said Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii. Raethal said that long-term care facilities are more prepared than at the start of the pandemic, taking precautions, such as shutting down visitation and screening people who come in. He pointed out that Hawaii has the lowest rate of COVID-19 infection in nursing homes.

Anderson said that only one long-term care facility resident in Hawaii is known to have tested positive for the virus so far — a patient at Hale Makua who had recently been discharged from Maui Memorial Medical Center, where there was a cluster of cases. That case was “very well managed,” with the patient isolated, staff and residents tested and no evidence of infection among anyone else.

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

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