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Maui hospital sees slight drop in COVID patients

New O2 generator installed at MMMC; cluster report posted

Maui Memorial Medical Center received an on-site medical-grade oxygen generator from Kaiser Permanente on Sept. 3. It has helped meet intensive care unit patient demand for oxygen. MAUI MEMORIAL MEDICAL CENTER photo

In the wake of record highs for COVID-19 patients being treated at Maui’s only acute care hospital, inpatient data this month is showing a slight decline in hospitalizations tied to the virus.

However, officials cautioned that Maui Memorial Medical Center is not out of the woods, especially because it has been “quite busy” with people receiving non-COVID-related medical care as well.

“While our COVID numbers have decreased slightly, we are not out of this surge yet and are closely monitoring any increase in positive cases next week, which follows the Labor Day holiday exposure time period for potential need for hospitalization,” Maui Health spokeswoman Tracy Dallarda said Thursday.

Maui Memorial, which has 219 licensed beds, treated 53 COVID-19 inpatients over the month of July. 

The hospital reached a pandemic high when it hit 40 COVID-19 inpatients on a single day in August. That month, a total of 111 inpatients were treated.

This month, the number of COVID-19 inpatients ranged from 28 on Sept. 1 to a high of 36 on Sept. 8. Over last week, single-day volume dropped into the low 20s.

On Thursday, there were 17 inpatients, according to Maui Health data. 

The numbers don’t include the amount of COVID patients who are seen, treated and discharged from the emergency department, Dallarda said.

Driven by the highly transmissible delta variant, COVID-19 cases surged throughout Hawaii in the weeks that followed Fourth of July and into August. 

Hospitals around the state were nearing or exceeding capacities, spurring the framework for “crisis standards of care.” The last-resort state-approved measures, once activated, would release health care systems from liability if resources, such as oxygen or beds, were depleted.

No hospital in Hawaii has activated “crisis standards” and some resources have trickled in.

A new, on-site medical-grade oxygen generator at Maui Memorial has helped meet intensive care unit patient demand. 

The hospital received the generator from Kaiser Permanente on Sept. 3; it was installed and tested last week before going online.

During the month of August when COVID-19 cases were up, the hospital used about three times as much medical-grade oxygen than normal when cases were lower, Dallarda said.

Now that Maui is seeing a slight decline in COVID-19 inpatients this month, staff can “easily handle the daily needs for O2,” she added.  

Hospitals use oxygen to assist patients with COVID-19, as well as those with emphysema and lung cancer, according to the Healthcare Association of Hawaii. ICU patients are typically on either high-flow oxygen or on a ventilator, and the majority of hospitalized COVID patients are on high-flow oxygen.

The machine is augmenting the liquid oxygen supply delivered weekly from Airgas on Oahu, Dallarda said. 

There are two liquid oxygen plants in the state: Airgas and Matheson Tri-Gas. Both are operating at full capacity and have switched to producing medical gas only.

“Between the oxygen stewardship program and the use of the generator, we have been able to curb the use of liquid O2 significantly,” Dallarda said Wednesday. “The utilization of liquid O2 ebbs and flows with the number of patients who require O2 at any given time.”

Meanwhile, Maui County recorded the most clusters in the state with 35, according to the state Department of Health cluster report released Thursday. 

Educational settings, along with the travel, lodging and tourism category, sparked the most clusters and cases for Maui County over the last 14 days.

Eleven clusters were tied to 134 total cases in educational settings and 11 clusters were tied to 162 cases in travel, lodging and tourism. Three construction and industrial clusters had 32 cases; two food supplier clusters had 27 cases; one restaurant cluster had eight cases; one “other occupational” setting cluster had seven cases; and six other clusters resulted in 99 cases. In all, clusters in Maui County were linked to 469 cases.

Oahu had only a handful of clusters, but the island had the highest volume of cases, led by one correctional facilities cluster that’s now at 298 cases. In all, Oahu clusters were linked to 495 cases.

In August, the Maui District Health Office investigated 26 COVID-19 cases in a public elementary school on Maui, according to Thursday’s report. 

Working with the school administration, investigators found epidemiological links among the school cases. A total of 23, or 88 percent of cases had exposure outside of the school setting, with most of the student cases infected by household members with COVID-19. The household members with COVID-19 were primarily exposed during summer camps, at the workplace, or during activities at places of worship. 

The school reported 60 percent of staff were vaccinated; the student population is younger than 12 years old and therefore, ineligible for vaccination, according to the DOH.

Dallarda echoed that Maui’s hospital is not yet in the clear, and encouraged people to continue to protect themselves, get vaccinated if possible and avoid large crowds. 

She also asked that people thank a health care worker.

“To send a virtual message of thanks, please visit www.mauihealth.org/gratitude-wall,” she said. “They really do receive your messages and it brightens their day.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com and Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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