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DOH reports first case in Kalaupapa

The isolated community of Kalaupapa on Molokai's north shore has reported its first case of COVID-19, the state Department of Health said Thursday morning. COLLEEN UECHI photo

An adult resident of Kalaupapa has become the first person to contract COVID-19 in Kalawao County, reportedly the last county in the U.S. without a case in eight months of the pandemic, according to the state Department of Health.

The person received a positive test result after returning on a local flight to Kalaupapa and is now in self-isolation with no symptoms. DOH immediately conducted contact tracing, and close contacts on the same flight are now in self-quarantine. All are asymptomatic and being monitored for development of any symptoms, DOH said.

The department added that it is coordinating with the National Park Service to ensure support for all individuals in quarantine and isolation.

“Everyone here recognizes the importance of the 14-day quarantine protocol to assist in protecting themselves, friends, family and the broader Kalaupapa community,” Ken Seamon, DOH administrator of Kalaupapa Settlement, said in a news release. “The affected individuals are being provided with necessary daily living support, guidance and any assistance required should COVID-19 symptoms develop.”

Seamon said that the person who tested positive “did the right thing in notifying us of the positive test result.”

“We believe we can contain the virus here without a stay-at-home order for the entire settlement,” he said.

The small, isolated community on Molokai’s north shore once served as the home for residents who were forced to relocate under Hawaii’s laws for the isolation of Hansen’s Disease patients. When the state abolished the law in 1969, former patients who chose to remain were guaranteed by law that they could continue living in Kalaupapa with the care and support of the state.

Kalawao County, which includes Kalaupapa, is administered by DOH specifically for the care of the remaining Hansen’s Disease patients and works closely with the Kalaupapa National Park Service and State Department of Transportation to support the Kalaupapa community.

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