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Shot clinic closes early as lines build up again

UH-MC site will limit next week’s clinic to top-tier patients only

A volunteer gives people tips on how to approach the drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the University of Hawaii Maui College on Wednesday. The clinic is still trying to serve first-tier patients, but officials tried to accommodate other groups following confusion over online reservations. Next week the clinic will be closed to the general public as it conducts second-round immunizations for first-tier patients. The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo

KAHULUI — The state Department of Health’s Maui District Office closed its COVID-19 vaccination site down early Wednesday to “maintain safety and order” due to the volume and fragility of those seeking the shots, health officials said Wednesday afternoon.

The clinic at the University of Hawaii Maui College in Kahului turned away people trying to enter in line around 11:30 a.m., said Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang. He estimated that around 150 people with appointments were turned away but would be accommodated next week.

A text to media Wednesday by the DOH said the clinic asked people with a 1 p.m. appointment to not go to the clinic and await information on a future date.

Pang said issues arose Wednesday as many showed up without an appointment, including some elderly residents who came on a bus from Lahaina to get a shot.

He felt the clinic could handle the overwhelming volume as it did Monday but they were unable to this time.

Physician Assistant Esther Agepogu prepares to administer a COVID-19 shot Wednesday at the state Department of Health’s drive-thru vaccination clinic at the University of Hawaii Maui College. The clinic again received an overwhelming number of patients and closed its line early.

Wait times Wednesday were also long, with some waiting around two hours to get a shot. Cars lined up for the clinic from the college’s Kaahumanu Avenue entrance and snaked to the back parking lot facing Kahului Harbor. UH-Maui College Chancellor Lui Hokoana transported some elderly participants on a large golf cart from their cars to the bathroom. There were also scores of volunteers who took time off from work to assist, with some monitoring patients after their shots were administered and others checking people in.

Pang told The Maui News in an interview at around 1:30 p.m. that Wednesday’s clinic was more difficult, as more senior citizens showed up and needed more time to get the shot, as well as additional care such as bathroom breaks, which made the clinic process longer and challenging.

Pang said people also showed up based on word of mouth and had no appointment, and some were told by their doctors to report to the site Wednesday.

The volume of patients can also be attributed to the online Vaccine Administration Management System developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which takes registrations for the vaccine and gives people the option to take the shot either at the Department of Health site at the college or at Maui Memorial Medical Center, the Health Department has said.

People end up reserving a spot at the UH-MC location, which state officials said is actually a closed point of delivery, or POD site, and is still trying to work on vaccinating the 1A top priority tier that includes health care personnel and people who live and work in high-risk facilities such as skilled nursing homes.

Maui Memorial, meanwhile, has moved on to the 1B tier that includes people older than 75, along with frontline essential workers not in the health care field.

The hospital opened up an online registration site late last week. Those that register on the hospital’s online electronic platform are supposed to get their shots at the hospital, but many may have chosen the college site instead, DOH officials said.

As he surveyed the hundreds of cars with folks waiting to get their shots, Pang said that come next week, the clinic at the college will focus on finishing the second vaccinations for 1A top priority workers and will not be giving out initial shots to other groups.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccination process takes two shots.

“From now on, it’s second shot until we open (to the public),” Pang said.

He said the clinic administered around 800 shots Wednesday, slightly up from the approximately 760 shots given Monday when the clinic was also swamped with patients due to the online appointment system.

Even with the crowds, Bridget Velasco, DOH public health educator and planner, said the clinic still has vaccines. She expected the Maui District office to receive 2,000 doses Wednesday.

“We are in a good place right now,” she said.

Velasco also asked for some patience among those receiving the shots, noting that those participating are some of the first around the globe to receive them and are getting them for free.

Statewide, 40,386 vaccines have been administered, according to DOH data that is updated every Wednesday with the counts as of Saturday to allow time to confirm accuracy. Oahu is leading the way with 25,613 vaccinations, followed by Hawaii County with 4,251, Maui County with 4,182 and Kauai County with 2,740.

The state is ramping up efforts to vaccinate high-risk residents in the face of a surge in cases. After seeing a spike of 583 cases in December, Maui County has so far tallied 313 in January, according to DOH data.

On Wednesday, the state Department of Education confirmed that one student each at Lanai High & Elementary and Hana High & Elementary have tested positive for COVID-19.

In Hana, the student was last on campus “for a limited amount of time” Monday, said spokeswoman Nanea Kalani, adding that “broad notification was sent out to staff and families” Wednesday. Kalani said the Health Department has reassured the school that proper steps were taken to mitigate further impact to students and staff.

On Lanai, Principal Elton Kinoshita said in a letter to staff, parents and guardians Tuesday that the student was last on campus Jan. 7.

Kinoshita said he has been in contact with the family and had “sent our aloha for a speedy recovery.”

The schools are notifying close contacts, closing impacted areas for seven days and sanitizing and coordinating next steps with the Department’s COVID-19 Core Response Team, according to Kalani and the letter to Lanai parents.

Hale Makua Health Services also reported Wednesday that another resident tested positive for COVID-19 at the Kahului facility and is receiving care in quarantine. The new positive case was discovered after one resident and two staff at Hale Makua Kahului tested positive within the last week.

Hale Makua said that the other resident and staff cases confirmed Friday and Saturday were proven to be unrelated to each other since there had been no contact and the individuals were assigned to different areas of the large facility. However, contact tracing is continuing, since the latest case resided in an area of the facility where another staff member who tested positive Monday worked.

Hale Makua will continue to test all 200 residents and more than 400 staff every three to four days until it sees 100 percent negative test results over a 14-day period, according to a news release.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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