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Lanai outbreak tops 20

More virus cases expected; shutdown of island urged

Jared Medeiros, a nurse practitioner at the Lanai Community Health Center, says during a virtual community meeting on Wednesday evening that he anticipates positive COVID-19 cases to increase exponentially as the clinic awaits test results. He is shown in a screenshot. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

State health officials are investigating a sudden “rapid spread” of COVID-19 on Lanai that could temporarily shut down the island after at least 20 residents tested positive for the virus.

The island’s first-ever four confirmed cases amid the pandemic were reported on Tuesday, followed by another 12 to 15 the next day, and the number of cases could “explode tomorrow” once more results get back, health workers on Lanai said Wednesday evening.

Jared Medeiros, nurse practitioner at Lanai Community Health Center, said that the clinic had 17 positive cases of the 116 tests Wednesday, and Straub Medical Center’s Lanai Clinic confirmed three positive cases, potentially bringing the island’s total to 23. About 136 tests are pending.

The majority of Lanai’s positive cases were among multi-generational households.

“The doctors are recommending a pretty strict shutdown,” said State Sen. J. Kalani English, who represents East Maui, Molokai and Lanai. “We will take quick action, but you can take even quicker action. So we ask that you remain inside unless you absolutely have to go out.”

During a virtual town hall meeting Wednesday night, English and Rep. Lynn DeCoite, who represents the same region, said that they will ask Gov. David Ige today to immediately shut down the island because “time is of the essence.”

Lanai’s health care professionals from the health center, Straub and Lanai Community Hospital recommended state and county officials lock down the island for two weeks and make mass testing available, as well as bring in rapid testing machines.

Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang said he anticipates that cases “will be pretty widespread” and reiterated that residents should follow the five “Ws”— wear a mask, watch your physical distance, wash hands, wipe down surfaces, head for wide-open spaces and make sure you’re well before going out in public.

“For every case we know about, there’s at least three we don’t know about,” Pang said.

The state Department of Health’s Maui District Health Office is actively contact tracing and investigating the cases, as well as educating the residents on how to safely quarantine and self-isolate.

“They have been working closely with the nine medical providers,” said Heidi Taogoshi, public health nursing supervisor for the district office. “Any businesses, schools or establishments that may be involved have been or are in the process of being notified.”

All residents who tested positive for COVID-19 are self-isolating at home; none were hospitalized. Specific information on how and where the outbreak started was not disclosed.

Anyone symptomatic should self-isolate and contact their health care provider, Taogoshi said. Anyone who tests negative for the coronavirus but may have had close contact with a person who tested positive should quarantine for 14 days. DOH has self-isolation units on the island of Lanai and the department is in the process of securing more, she said.

“It’s now more important than ever to follow these recommendations as we see how quickly (COVID-19) can spread,” she said during a Maui County news conference Wednesday. “The good news is, is that it can be stopped just as quickly if we all work together. So there should be no blaming. COVID affects everyone, and don’t be ashamed to get tested.”

Taogoshi added that the Lanai Emergency Preparedness group has been meeting weekly since the beginning of the pandemic, so she is “confident that with the help of everyone, the community will get past this.”

“For the longest time we had no new cases, almost seven months, on the island of Lanai,” Maui County Mayor Micheal Victorino said during the news conference. “It’s quite disappointing that they have started, and I believe there may be more cases coming.”

Intercounty travel will not be affected by the rise in cases at this time, Victorino said, though later in the evening medical professionals suggested adding precautionary measures.

He added that officials will be sending cleaning supplies Friday to sanitize state and county offices on Lanai, making sure high-touch points are disinfected. While unsure of the costs, Victorino said he will try to make the supplies available to Lanai businesses to slow down the spread.

“We’re taking a proactive approach,” he said. “Just like Molokai, just like Hana, Wailuku, whenever a community has had spread, we’ve sent in our disinfectant teams to make sure we sanitize and eliminate any touch points that may be existing in the towns or in any of our businesses.”

The DOH said earlier this week that three of the COVID-19-positive people work at the same location and have symptoms. Another case is a health care worker who does not provide direct patient care.

Taogoshi said “we haven’t identified a certain location or business” and did not confirm whether the additional 12 cases on Wednesday were linked to the initial cases.

“We’re still trying to determine the connection and the investigations are ongoing,” she said. “I don’t have the details of, like if the resident traveled off the island and returned to the island, but I believe that could have been a possibility, but I don’t really want to speak to that because I haven’t verified that with the investigators who are currently working on it.”

Pulama Lana’i, who learned of the first four COVID-19 cases on Tuesday and is the island’s largest employer, did not directly respond to a question as to whether any of the cases were company employees, but did wish “a quick recovery to those affected.”

“The Department of Health is in the process of investigating and contacting anyone who may have come in close contact with the affected individuals,” Pulama Lana’i said in a statement to The Maui News on Wednesday night. “We are working closely with state health and county officials to take all necessary steps in line with public health protocols to ensure the safety of the community.”

English said during the virtual meeting that out of caution, Lanai High and Elementary School will be switching to distance learning effective today for all grade levels due to the outbreak.

There are no confirmed cases linked to the schools.

Principal Elton Kinoshita said that grab-and-go meal services for students will continue from 11:15 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. Administrators and custodial staff will also still be available in rotating shifts.

Testing will be available to the Lanai community from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Old Dole Administration Building. Residents can call the Straub Medical Center Lanai Clinic at (808) 565-6423 or the Lanai Community Health Center at (808) 565-6919 to make an appointment.

“As you can see, spread can surge very quickly– how it starts, when it starts, where it starts,” Victorino said. “Our contact tracers and our Department of Health and others are looking into it right now.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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