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Five Maui Coast workers test positive for virus

General manager says all have since recovered

Five employees at the Maui Coast Hotel in Kihei have tested positive for COVID-19, though three have already recovered and are back at work and the other two are expected to return shortly, according to the hotel’s general manager.

David Frazier confirmed Friday that Maui Coast was one of the hotels linked to a cluster in the state Department of Health’s weekly report released Thursday. Frazier said all five were housekeepers who had very little contact with guests and likely contracted the virus outside of the hotel, based on conversations with the workers and the Health Department. All five have since tested negative.

“There’s not a lot of opportunity for contact with guests directly because we’ve discontinued (some services) as far as safety protocols during COVID,” Frazier said. “For example, we used to have a shuttle van. We don’t run that. And so any of the things that might have, in the past, forced my staff into close contact with guests has really been eliminated.”

The Health Department said Thursday that it was investigating two clusters of nine cases connected to hotel and accommodation settings, and that potential infection contributors included “insufficient spacing between employees, improper mask usage and potentially inadequate measures to reduce environmental contamination when turning over rooms between guests.” The department, however, did not specify which hotels had experienced the problems.

“As far as my hotel goes, that’s not what’s going on,” Frazier said. “These cases, as far as we can tell, all of them have come from the outside.”

Frazier said that Maui Coast has been making efforts since the start of the pandemic to reduce risk to employees and guests, cleaning common areas several times a day, cutting some in-person services like the shuttle and undergoing a three-phase cleaning process for each room that starts with a worker entering the room to electrostatically apply hospital-grade disinfectants. A housekeeper then cleans the room before it’s electrostatically disinfected one more time.

“All my staff are required to wear masks constantly,” Frazier said. “We’re constantly hand sanitizing and doing all the steps that have been recommended by the CDC. In my conversations directly with the Department of Health, they have not expressed to me any concerns over the protocols.”

While many hotels have seen occupancy plummet during the pandemic, the 225-room Maui Coast Hotel has still stayed busy because it has hosted the National Guard and has several contracts to host airline crews. When asked if he was concerned about increased travel exposure, Frazier said that “the airlines and the National Guard are probably the best stewards of their own safety because they have their own protocols in place.”

All travelers to Hawaii who do not take a COVID-19 test prior to arrival are required to quarantine, and Frazier said that the state informs the hotel when a traveler is headed its way who needs to quarantine.

“If someone instructs us that someone needs to quarantine, then we follow up with them and issue them a one-use key so that they quarantine,” Frazier explained.

The Health Department said it does not identify locations of clusters.

“I checked with our Disease Outbreak Control Division. They would not tell me where the clusters occurred,” DOH spokesperson Brooks Baehr said Friday evening. “This is consistent with our policy. We do not identify the location of clusters of COVID-19 or individual cases of COVID-19 unless there is an imminent health theat. In the case, the situation is being addressed and we do not believe there is an imminent health threat.”

Some residents have expressed concern over the state’s pre-travel testing program that launched in October, worrying that growing numbers of travelers would bring more cases to the islands. State health and county officials have said that most cases are connected to community spread.

Maui County saw 150 cases in November; of the 149 with known risk factors, 66 percent were related to community spread, 24 percent to resident travel and 9 percent to visitor travel, according to Health Department data. In December, there were 484 cases; of the 479 with known risk factors, 82 percent were community associated, 13 percent were resident travel associated and 4 percent were visitor travel associated. So far in January, there have been 679 cases; of the 574 with known risk factors, 91 percent were linked to community spread, 6 percent to resident travel and 3 percent to visitor travel.

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

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