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Employee in mayor’s office tests positive

As cases surge, state ramps up vaccine plan

A dose of vaccine is prepared during an inoculation drive in December. Lt. Gov. Josh Green and other officials said Tuesday that the state will be ramping up vaccination efforts as more doses arrive across the islands. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

A county employee in the Office of the Mayor has tested positive for COVID-19 and is in isolation at home, the county announced Tuesday afternoon.

The employee is asymptomatic and last worked in the Kalana O Maui county building Thursday, according to a news release. The mayor’s office was alerted by the employee about the possible case Sunday evening, and the county received state Department of Health confirmation of the positive case Tuesday morning.

The Kalana O Maui county building remains open, and all building common areas have been professionally disinfected and will be sanitized again. However, out of an abundance of caution, the public is urged to conduct business with the county online or to use the dropbox fronting the building.

Water and solid waste payments can be done in person at the Maui County Service Center or Maui County Small Business Resource Center located in Maui Mall.

Telework options have been offered to building employees.

A drive-thru vaccination clinic for first responders was held at the University of Hawaii Maui College parking lot last month. The state is establishing an online vaccine regististration plan to help speed the process.

Everyone who had close contact with the individual has already been notified by DOH contact tracers, according to DOH officials.

“It is very unlikely anyone who was not contacted by DOH has been affected,” the news release said.

Mayor Michael Victorino said that actions are being taken to ensure the health and safety of employees, their families and the community.

“I also remind everyone in Maui County to continue to follow all appropriate health and safety guidelines,” he added.

Hawaii has seen a surge of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, going from a seven-day rolling average of 80 new cases a day and 56 people hospitalized as of Dec. 1, to 139.6 new daily cases and more than 100 people hospitalized as of Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Josh Green said.

He and other officials said that the state will be ramping up vaccination efforts as more doses arrive across the islands.

Department of Health Director Dr. Libby Char said during a news conference Tuesday that Hawaii received an additional 17,000 vaccine doses Monday, mostly second doses for those who’ve already been vaccinated, including high-priority health care workers and residents and staff of local nursing homes. Second doses are required after 21 days for Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines — which have mostly gone to hospitals — and 28 days after Moderna vaccines — which have mostly gone to long-term care facilities.

The state has so far received nearly 83,000 doses of the vaccine and is expected to receive about 25,000 more this week and about 150,000 doses each month, according to Green.

Green explained that about 40,000 health care personnel and about 10,000 long-term care facility residents are included in Phase 1A that started in mid-December.

He added that the state hopes to expand vaccination sites during the week of Jan. 18 and focus on kupuna over age 75 — about 109,000 people. They are included in Phase 1B along with frontline essential workers, about 50,000 people ranging from first responders, corrections officers, emergency service dispatchers, essential government workers and those in critical public industries such as transportation and utilities. Teachers, child care and education support staff, as well as U.S. Postal Service workers, are also included.

Phase 1C is slated to take place between March and May and will cover other essential workers as well as residents ages 65 to 74 who are authorized to get the vaccine because they have chronic disease — an estimated 400,000 in total.

The next phases, which will include the general population, are expected to begin in the early summer depending on the federal allocation of vaccines, Green said.

“We again do not feel this is a mandatory process,” Green said. “People do not have to get vaccinated. But we want to make it available to everyone as soon as possible, especially our high-risk groups.”

In a county-by-county breakdown of vaccine deliveries on Dec. 23, Maui County had received the fewest vaccines with 2,975 doses (975 of Pfizer and 2,000 of Moderna), compared to 21,600 doses shipped to Honolulu County, 4,925 sent to Hawaii County and 3,950 delivered to Kauai County.

When asked why Maui County had gotten the least and whether the county had received more shipments to make up the deficit, Char said that she “wouldn’t necessarily call it a deficit.”

“The way that we’re doing the allocation, especially with the hospitals, which is where the vaccine is primarily going now, has to do with a partnership with the Healthcare Association of Hawaii,” Char said.

She explained that the association is working with each of the hospital CEOs, “and they’re declaring how much they can use or when they’re ready for more doses.”

“So we’re trying to make sure that we get it out there, but as the lieutenant governor noted, we don’t want to waste it, so if somebody hasn’t administered and they still have a fair amount of doses left, we don’t want to send another tray to them. We’d rather send it somewhere else that’s ready to use it.”

Bridget Velasco, public health planner with the Maui District Health Office, said Tuesday that Maui County has received 4,700 Moderna doses to date, with 600 distributed to Hana, Lanai and Molokai for use starting last week. A total of 1,777 Moderna doses have been given out on Maui island, while 180 have been administered on Lanai and 100 in Hana.

Department of Health spokesperson Brooks Baehr said that Hawaii hospitals received 12,675 doses of the Pfizer vaccine Monday, though he wasn’t sure how many had gone to Maui.

Maui Health, which oversees Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital and Lana’i Community Hospital, has administered vaccines to nearly 2,000 employees and providers, a spokeswoman said Monday. A third tray of 975 Pfizer vaccines was expected to arrive that day.

Char said that The Queen’s Health System, which operates Molokai General Hospital, had also vaccinated their health care workers.

As the state opens more testing and vaccination sites and works its way through priority groups, Char said people will need to go online and make reservations, which will help cut down wait times and allow officials to match the vaccines with the number of people expected that day.

Char acknowledged that some older residents may have trouble accessing the internet for reservations, and pointed out that Walgreens and CVS are taking the vaccines directly to long-term care facilities. The state is also working with smaller pharmacies to potentially go to smaller residential care homes and vaccinate people.

Each vial contains about five doses, and Green said that on average, “I think we’ve gotten a lot more supply per vial” and that he hasn’t heard of any instances of people accidentally leaving out trays and wasting doses.

“There’s always a little bit of waste because when you’re having say 1,200 people come through, some people don’t show up, and as you get to the end of the day, this vaccine can’t be refrozen,” Green said. “So we’re very careful about that, but we’re being efficient. We know that every dose is one person that could be immune and it’s one less case that could be in the hospital.”

Gov. David Ige also clarified that people who are vaccinated will not be exempt from the state’s Safe Travels program, which requires a 10-day quarantine for travelers unless they test negative for the virus with a trusted testing partner.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com. Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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