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COVID-19 cluster found in Molokai construction crew

At least 12 test positive; work site at hospital shut down

The state Department of Health confirmed Friday that there is a construction-related cluster of 12 COVID-19 cases on Molokai.

Queen’s Health Systems, of which Molokai General Hospital is a member, said it was informed on Tuesday afternoon that a Maui-based contractor who had been working in the hospital had tested positive for COVID-19.

The contractor did not have any contact with hospital patients and had been working in an area that had been closed for construction, Queen’s Health Systems said in a news release.

State Rep. Lynn DeCoite of Molokai said in a news release Friday evening that the crew had members from both Maui and Molokai.

“Many of the crew members have since tested positive and the virus has now infected family members and community members,” DeCoite said.

So far, no one who was vaccinated tested positive, DeCoite said. Approximately 15 people were tested on Friday; results are pending.

DeCoite assured residents that if they need medical care “it is safe to go to” the hospital.

She encouraged “everyone to try to stay calm and get your information from reputable sources and not the coconut wireless.”

Queen’s Health Systems said no hospital staff members have tested positive; 83 percent of the hospital’s staff has been vaccinated.

Comprehensive contact tracing is ongoing and the hospital is working with the DOH and other officials.

In a statement on Friday, Janice Kalanihuia, president of Molokai General Hospital, said: “Although Molokai General Hospital didn’t cause this, we will be active partners with the state Department of Health in addressing it, and restoring the health and safety of our island.”

Because of the incident, the hospital will hold free COVID-19 testing from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday. No appointment is needed.

Those with questions may call the Queen’s COVID info line at (808) 691-2619.

On Friday, during his news conference, Mayor Michael Victorino said he understood that most of the cases from the cluster are on Molokai.

He said the affected construction company reached out to the county, which assisted with disinfecting the construction site and the workers’ residences.

Kalanihuia said that no matter from where the virus spread or who is infected, residents need to be vigilant, keep wearing their masks. and practice social distancing when outside their immediate family or with those whose vaccination status is not certain.

Kalanihuia said the hospital was notified Tuesday afternoon about the COVID-19 case from a Maui-based contractor. The hospital shut down the construction job and tested 12 people who were on site at the time. Four tested positive and immediately went into quarantine.

The crew was working in the dining room wing. It was completely separated and sealed off from staff and patient care areas. The air handling system was disconnected and there was no air exchange between the work area and any part of the hospital, Kalanihuia said.

The contractor provided the hospital “with a lengthy and robust COVID-19 protocol they would be following,” she said.

The hospital had them sign up for an app to track individual employee symptoms each day.

“For both those things to work, there needs to be proper oversight, something the company assured us would be done,” Kalanihuia said.

Kalanihuia said the contractor declined to make a public statement.

She said she would keep the community updated.

“Molokai General Hospital has spent the last 14 months doing all we can to keep our staff and all of you safe. The well-being of our community is paramount. It is heartbreaking that this happened as we are beginning to see things open up a little.”

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

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