Kalaupapa reports first COVID-19 case

On Maui, county gets approval to close bars

The state Department of Health reported the first case of COVID-19 in the isolated community of Kalaupapa on Molokai’s north shore on Thursday morning. Kalawao County was reportedly the last county in the U.S. without a case in eight months of the pandemic. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

An adult resident of Kalaupapa has become the first person to test positive for 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 on Thursday.

The DOH said the person received a positive 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.

“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.

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

The peninsula 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, according to DOH.

Residents living and working in Kalaupapa had different reactions to the news that the virus had reached their small, isolated community with medically vulnerable patients.

“I don’t think there is any fear,” said Father Patrick Killilea of St. Francis Church.

He added that “there may be some concerns if something was missed” but felt that the situation was contained with the person and close contacts isolated.

National Park Service Ranger Miki’ala Pescaia said there are some who feel they’re safe because of the isolation, though others may be more fearful. She said the person who contracted COVID-19 is not a patient.

“In general the community is very resilient,” Pescaia said. “We had to work and provide essential service under extreme conditions since the pandemic began. Kalawao County actually closed down access to outsiders even before the rest of the state.”

Pescaia said that most employees with the Park Service and Health Department at Kalaupapa have continued on with their jobs unaffected. But she added that many nonessential services and work had already been cut back prior to mandatory government closures in order to protect residents.

Killilea said the community has been wearing masks even before they were mandated. He’s 76 years old, around the age of the youngest Hansen’s disease patient on the island, and said that there have been no restrictions on him or other residents, other than those placed in quarantine.

“The rest of us just have to be careful as usual,” Killilea said.

As cases rose in other parts of the state, Gov. David Ige on Thursday approved Maui County’s request to temporarily close bars and bar areas within restaurants starting Saturday through Dec. 26.

Maui County and Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang have attributed an uptick in Maui’s recent COVID-19 cases to “bar-like” behavior where people eat or drink for hours without a mask. They also attributed some of the cases to bar hopping.

Bars that have a commercial kitchen do not need to shut down, but must close down their bar service areas, such as counters. Alcohol can still be served to tables, the county has said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com. Managing Editor Colleen Uechi contributed this report.


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