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Maui COVID-19 clusters on the rise

Health Department says California variant still to blame

Face masks decorated with the Hawaiian islands are available in Lahaina on Thursday. Maui is continuing to see an increase in COVID-19 clusters under investigation, with 21 active clusters this week spanning education, the tourism industry, a church, food suppliers and restaurants. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

The state Department of Health is investigating 21 COVID-19 clusters on Maui, up from a dozen a week ago, as the county continues to grapple with a contagious variant and clusters in the tourism industry, school settings and a church.

Outbreaks in travel, lodging and tourism went from four clusters of 39 cases last week to seven clusters of 93 cases this week, according to the DOH cluster report released Thursday. Department officials did not say whether the cases were from visitors or hotel employees.

Educational settings, which include public and private schools, preschools, school-based athletics, higher education settings and after-school programs, have seen an increase from one cluster of 13 cases last week to six clusters of 48 cases this week.

Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang said the increase is due to the highly transmissible B.1.429 variant that’s widespread in California and has appeared in 100 percent of the Maui Community Correctional Center cases.

The jail cluster has reached 100 cases and has seen no changes from last week, the DOH report showed. On Thursday, the state Department of Public Safety announced 23 more negative inmate test results and 42 negative staff results. Officials said there have been no positive cases since Monday.

A sign lists services in front of King’s Cathedral in Kahului on April 3. A cluster connected to the church has reached 90 cases since it was first discovered in March, according to Health Department officials.

“We have seen (the) variant in many community clusters,” Pang said in an email late Thursday afternoon, noting how the cases have consistently grown in the clusters, evidence that the highly transmissible variant is probably to blame.

Another cluster under watch in Maui County is at King’s Cathedral and Chapels, which has gone from a total of 77 cases last week to 90 this week. While specific locations are not named in the weekly report, the DOH took the unusual step of identifying King’s Cathedral on March 31 because the cluster posed an “imminent threat to public health.” The department encouraged the church to move to virtual services and advised members who attended services within the past two weeks to monitor themselves for symptoms and get tested.

Other clusters in Maui County were among food suppliers, which went from one cluster of 24 cases last week to two clusters of 34 cases this week. Two new clusters of seven cases also appeared among restaurants.

The only downward trend was in the other occupational settings category, which saw clusters under investigation drop from four clusters of 60 cases last week to two clusters of nine total cases this week. Other occupational settings include offices, retail establishments and first responders.

Maui County’s 21 clusters continue to be the most in the state. Honolulu County had seven clusters under investigation Thursday — two clusters of 26 cases attributed to social gatherings, two clusters of 20 cases linked to educational settings, two clusters of 12 cases connected to restaurants and one cluster of four cases in the “other” category. Hawaii County had three clusters — one cluster of 37 cases in educational settings, one cluster of 12 cases tied to social gatherings and one cluster of eight cases linked to a place of worship. Kauai County had no active clusters.

State Department of Education spokeswoman Nanea Kalani said Thursday that the DOE has seen an uptick in cases statewide in schools in the two weeks following spring break. However, there has been no known transmission on campuses stemming from any of those cases, Kalani said.

For the week of April 3 to 9, the latest data available, there were a total of eight reported cases at Maui County schools, according to Kalani.

Officials at the Maui County Mayor’s Office Thursday afternoon could not be reached for comment on how the county planned to respond to the increase of clusters and cases.

Honolulu County is currently averaging 56 new cases a day and a test positivity rate of 2 percent on a seven-day rolling average, according to DOH data. Maui County is averaging 18 new cases a day and a positivity rate of 2.3 percent. Hawaii County is averaging nine new cases a day and a 1.4 positivity rate, while Kauai County is averaging zero new cases and a 0.2 percent positivity rate.

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

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