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Mayor: Tourism industry clusters due to employees gathering outside work

COVID-19 clusters in the tourism industry on Maui are due to employees gathering outside of work and others coming back to their jobs too early after getting sick, Mayor Michael Victorino said Friday.

The state Department of Health is currently investigating seven clusters of 93 cases connected to the travel, lodging and tourism industry in Maui County, according to Thursday’s cluster report. Of those cases, 78 were connected to the primary setting and 15 were linked cases outside the primary setting, the report said.

Victorino said Friday at the county’s news conference that he is “always concerned” when there is any cluster in the county.

He said the DOH told him that employees gathered outside of work and that in another case, workers came back too quickly while still exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. He advised people who are not feeling to “stay home.”

The travel industry-related outbreaks are among the 21 clusters that the Health Department is investigating in Maui County — the most in the state and an increase over the dozen clusters just a week ago.

Maui District Health Officer Dr. Lorrin Pang has said the highly transmissible B.1.429 variant found widely in California is to blame for the clusters.

Despite the increase, Victorino said Friday that he does not plan to change any rules at this time.

Another large cluster listed in this week’s report was at a place of worship, which the Health Department has confirmed in the past as King’s Cathedral and Chapels.

According to Thursday’s report, the cluster has totaled 90 cases since it was first identified in early March, with 75 cases associated with the primary setting and 15 linked cases outside the primary setting.

Victorino said Friday that the church has taken a lot of preventative measures, including increasing its sanitation practices, social distancing and wearing of masks.

Overall, Victorino said positive cases are starting to decline. He added that the church has done a “fairly good job in containing it” but the county will monitor for any “uptick in the future.”

The church has refuted the Health Department’s report, saying that there are only three active cases in two different congregations as of Friday. King’s Cathedral has 24 congregations in Maui County, with approximately 3,500 people in attendance, a news release said.

On March 31, the Health Department took the rare step of naming King’s Cathedral in connection to the cluster and publicly warning of the “imminent risk” to the community as cases spilled over into a school and workplace. The church called the statements “patently false.”

“Falsely classifying KC as an imminent risk or threat is defamatory,” the news release said. “There is not any scientific evidence that backs up the claim KC cases spread to the school and workplace. The Maui News, the DOH and other public authorities must cease their reckless, false and defamatory reporting.”

The church added that it cleans and sanitizes between every service, spaces pews 6 feet apart, provides masks to congregants and has multiple hand sanitizing stations.

“We spend time training our team on how to deal with COVID related situations that come up to ensure congregants feel at ease when joining our services,” the news release said.

The DOH did not immediately respond to the church’s comments on Friday afternoon.

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

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