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COVID-19 cases at Harbor Lights up to 75

Protesters ask again for formation of a COVID-19 task force

SANDY BAZ – Anticipates more cases

The COVID-19 cluster at Harbor Lights has inched up to 75 confirmed cases as agencies planned to deliver food and supplies to those in need at the Kahului complex today, a county official said Wednesday afternoon.

There will be on-site COVID-19 testing again today and the state Department of Health also has translators to assist with public education for those whose first language is not English, Managing Director Sandy Baz said during a county news conference. Hawaiian Airlines is flying the translators to Maui for free, he added.

“We do anticipate more positive tests coming from the Harbor Lights cluster,” Baz said.

Positive cases have risen since residents were notified Christmas Day, growing from at least 30 a week ago to 70 Monday. The county has said that DOH officials believe the spread began from a holiday choir practice.

A professional cleaning scheduled and urged by the county will now be handled by Harbor Lights, Baz said. The county will reimburse them for the cleaning.

Cara Flores of Kahului uses a bullhorn outside the Kalana O Maui county building Wednesday afternoon. She and the group Hale Hawai‘i are urging Mayor Michael Victorino to do more about the rising COVID-19 cases in Maui County and to reconsider setting up a COVID-19 task force. Image courtesy Sam Small

Mayor Michael Victorino said that a company the county had hired to do the cleaning that was postponed Sunday night was unable to book another cleaning, so Harbor Lights will seek another vendor.

The professional cleaning had long been proposed by the county, which has arranged cleaning in other areas where COVID-19 cases have popped up, such as Hana and Molokai. Miscommunication between both the county and Harbor Lights stalled initial cleaning, then a resident’s protest Sunday halted the cleaning again.

Resident Kaulana Kalama told The Maui News on Tuesday that he objected to the cleaning and told apartment officials that his wife is sensitive to chemicals.

He said he told them, “You not spraying by my house.”

Baz said during the news conference Wednesday that Harbor Lights will be issuing fines for those who are not wearing a face mask while in public areas of the property and that the property is also stepping up its cleaning.

Residents told The Maui News earlier this week that some people have not been wearing masks in public areas.

The Mayor’s Office also announced Tuesday that one of its employees had tested positive, and Baz said Wednesday that both he and Victorino had not been in close contact with the worker and have both tested negative.

Baz said the employee remains at home and is asymptomatic. The employee had last worked in the office Dec. 31 and had notified the Mayor’s Office of possible exposure Sunday. Confirmation came Tuesday.

Common areas of the county building have been disinfected twice, he added.

The county building remains open to the public, but Baz said payments for various bills can also be made online or via a dropbox in front of the building or at other offices such as the Maui County Service Center in the Maui Mall.

Victorino added that Maui will see new cases caused by holiday gatherings. He expected it to peak in the middle of January.

Currently there are 14 COVID-19 cases at Maui Memorial Medical Center with one on a ventilator and in the ICU, Victorino said.

With cases on the rise on Maui, the group Hale Hawai’i organized a “noise” protest outside the Kalana O Maui county building Wednesday afternoon to ask for more enforcement of emergency rules, tighter restrictions for travelers and a COVID-19 task force involving community members who could work with the mayor on COVID-19 issues.

About 10 people attended the Hale Hawai’i protest, with some socially distanced outside the building while others arrived in cars honking their horns during the county’s news conference at 4 p.m.

“The mayor is not listening to us. We are trying to be heard,” group founder Cara Flores said in a Facebook post prior to the protest.

Flores told The Maui News earlier in the day that the group is made up of people “who are really concerned about what is not being done on Maui.”

“We just want the mayor to do more enforcement of the mask mandate, the quarantine, gathering rules,” she said, adding that “there is a lot of talk” but not much action.

The Kahului resident said the group gave the Maui County Council a resolution last year urging the establishment of a rapid-response COVID-19 task force.

The resolution passed in November, but Victorino declined to create a task force, saying he had already been involved with the community for at least 10 months during the pandemic and had also convened groups to advise him and the county.

But Flores felt more could be done and wanted to make opening up schools a priority while keeping COVID-19 cases low on Maui.

“I would like to work with him,” Flores said of Victorino. “I would like to help get us to a better place as a county.”

When asked about the protest during the news conference, Victorino responded, “I think the county is trying its best. . . . Unfortunately people have been nonchalant and not as cautious as they should be.”

As a result, there will be more COVID-19 cases, he said.

“We’ve done all what we can at this point,” Victorino said. “I’m giving people a chance they can show us they can do what is right.”

He added the county is also taking into account people’s mental health, well-being and sense of hope.

“We are trying to balance that,” Victorino said, while thanking Hale Hawai’i.

Maui County spokesman Brian Perry said in an email Wednesday evening that along with Hale Hawai’i’s protest, small business operators also demonstrated on the same day in favor of relaxing restrictions.

“It’s time for people to understand that there are many perspectives on how to approach the health and safety of our community — not only those speaking out on social media,” Perry said.

He added that the vast majority of cases in Maui County are from community spread, not from visitors. According to Health Department data, Maui County had 484 cases in December, including 389 with a known risk factor. Of those, 81 percent were due to community spread, 12 percent from nonresident travelers and 7 percent from resident travelers.

“Now, with the vaccine being administered, establishing a brand new task force after 10 months of battling this pandemic is not the most efficient use of our limited time and resources,” Perry said.

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

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