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Oahu workers who went to Lanai positive for virus

Pulama Lana‘i employees who may have been exposed now in quarantine

Two construction workers from Oahu who were on Lanai last week have tested positive for COVID-19, state and Pulama Lana’i officials confirmed Tuesday afternoon.

Pulama Lana’i, the company that manages and oversees landowner Larry Ellison’s operations on the island, told The Maui News that the two contractors who were working on the island from Tuesday through Thursday of last week tested positive for the virus over the weekend and on Monday, respectively. The workers are now in quarantine.

“All Pulama Lana’i employees who may have been exposed are also in quarantine,” the company said via email. “Pulama Lanai continues to work closely with the Department of Health to adhere to proper protocols and safeguard the health of our community.”

Any Pulama employee who has been exposed can choose to be tested, the company said.

The company added later Tuesday afternoon that it could not offer information as to how many employees were in contact with the construction workers, how many are now in quarantine, which company the contractors were with and what type of work they were doing on island. It directed those inquiries to the state Department of Health.

The Hawaii COVID-19 Joint Information Center did not immediately respond to email requests for further comment Tuesday evening.

Dan Dennison, lead public information officer for the JIC, said in an email earlier in the day that the Honolulu residents developed symptoms while on Lanai. He added that contract tracing and investigation is under way.

Maui County spokesman Chris Sugidono said the workers were tested on Oahu and remain in quarantine there. He added that the cases will not be attributed to Lanai but to Oahu.

Lanai has yet to record a case on island.

One Lanai resident who was hospitalized on Maui in April did test positive for the virus, which Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said at the time was connected to the COVID-19 outbreak at Maui Memorial Medical Center. The patient had been transported to the hospital in March for treatment unrelated to COVID-19, according to the Health Department. The case was attributed to Maui’s total count.

On Tuesday, the Health Department reported 144 new cases, including 139 on Oahu and five on Hawaii island, though it was unclear whether the construction workers who traveled to Lanai were included in the count.

There have now been 2,591 cases statewide, including 2,221 on Oahu (one case was removed Tuesday as a result of updated information), 178 in Maui County (including two on Molokai and none on Lanai), 122 on Hawaii island and 47 on Kauai. Twenty-three residents have been diagnosed out of state.

The Honolulu Medical Examiner also reported the death of a Honolulu man who had tested positive for COVID-19. The man, who was between the age of 40 to 59 and had underlying conditions, died July 29 and was considered the 27th death associated with the coronavirus statewide. Of the total deaths, 20 have been on Oahu, six on Maui and one Kauai resident out of state.

In response to the cases of the Oahu contractors who were on Lanai, Victorino said in an email Tuesday afternoon that “we are working closely with our Maui District Health Office and State Department of Health to ensure that our Lanai community is supported and has the resources they need.”

He said the district office planned to host a virtual community meeting with residents tonight “to help answer any questions or concerns.”

The presentation will be at 6 p.m. today via Zoom. The meeting ID is 922 2955 3730 and the passcode is 036408.

“While the details of these cases are still being investigated, I have asked the governor and other mayors to consider reinstating the 14-day interisland quarantine and ensure proper health security protocols are being implemented at airports and harbors,” Victorino said. “We must take necessary actions to protect all of our Maui County residents from the spread of COVID-19.”

Maui County officials have worked to keep isolated areas such as Lanai, Molokai and Hana from having the virus, through such measures as closing off Hana Highway to non-resident traffic and arranging for immediate cleaning of Molokai businesses and mass testing after two grocery store employees contracted the virus.

“I hope we are doing the best to review our protocols and making sure those that come to Lanai and our residents remain as safe as possible,” Maui County Council Member Riki Hokama, who holds the Lanai residency seat, said Tuesday afternoon. “My biggest concern has always been the lack of facilities to treat our island residents if we do have any outbreaks.”

Hokama said he appreciated Victorino being willing to donate emergency bridge ventilators to Lanai health facilities earlier this year, but that unfortunately the island does not have the trained staff to use them.

He also wanted to see the state impose stricter protocols and screening measures at Manele Small Boat Harbor, which is a major thoroughfare to the island. In addition to the Expeditions Lanai ferry, there are many other private vessels that dock there, Hokama said.

He added that everyone should be considerate of others, wear a mask and social distance.

Lanai resident Caron Green asked that Pulama Lana’i be more “transparent” and come forward with information quicker “to get ahead of the story.”

“The rumors are flying, people are panicking,” she said.

Not wanting to “put the cart before the horse” and panic too quickly, Green said she wanted to know where the workers went and what they did on the island.

She and other Lanai residents said workers who come from off island are told to use grocery delivery services or have food delivered and are not allowed in grocery stores.

However, she wasn’t sure if everyone followed those rules. Green said that Lanai residents as a whole are following health guidelines, at least in public, pointing to a recent trip to Richard’s Market where people were standing six feet apart as they waited to get into the store, which limits the number of people allowed in at one time.

Resident Neal Rabaca heard bits and pieces of information regarding the cases on Monday and expected more details in the days ahead.

As a limousine, taxi and tour business owner, Rabaca said he doesn’t come into contact with construction workers from off island because they have their own transportation, though he does shuttle visiting doctors on the island. Rabaca said he keeps the windows down and sanitizes the vehicle.

Overall, as COVID-19 cases rise in the state, he expects restrictions to return.

“Looks like they are probably going to close it down again,” he said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com. Staff Writer Kehaulani Cerizo contributed to this report.

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