(BIVN) – After refusing to confirm whether or not a cluster of new COVID-19 cases may have occurred at a McDonald’s fast food restaurant in Kona, state officials on Tuesday finally provided details of the outbreak during a press conference.
“We have not attempted to hide the name of [the] McDonald’s that sold the food,” said Dr. Bruce Anderson, the Hawaiʻi state health director, during the press conference. “There are two McDonald’s in the Kona-area. They’re both closed.”
“It’s not a secret,” Dr. Anderson said. “We typically don’t advertise the name of a restaurant, but if someone wants to know, we’ll let them know.”
Earlier that day, in fact, Big Island Video News wanted to know. Officials from both the State and the County told BIVN that they would not be providing that information. The County cited “state law concerning details about patients”, while the state said since “a risk to the public has not been identified and all those at risk have been notified directly and are taking precautions”, that “identifying the establishment is not necessary to prevent further spread of the disease.”
Meanwhile, the information had already made its way across social media.
On Tuesday morning, Mayor Harry Kim said in a civil defense message that a recent jump in COVID-19 cases on Hawaiʻi island is attributed to “a fast food establishment employee contact with fellow employees and family.” The message did not disclose a location. Later that morning, the state did confirm the cluster occurred in Kona, but would not say where.
After finally confirming the name of the restaurant where the COVID-19 cluster was identified, and answering questions about the situation during the afternoon press conference, the Hawaiʻi Department of Health added this addendum to its daily information update:
Clarification on McDonald’s COVID-19 Cluster Investigation
A cluster of cases involving 7 lab-confirmed employees at McDonald’s locations at both Kona Commons and Walmart in Kailua-Kona has been recently identified and that number may change as the investigation into the primary case and their contacts continues by DOH. Once confirmed the establishment closed its operations at both locations and is currently performing enhanced cleaning. All employees who have tested positive are in isolation and potentially exposed employees without symptoms are self-quarantined at their homes. In addition, 5 family members exposed to 2 of the confirmed employees have tested positive for COVID-19. This brings the total count of this cluster to 12 at this time, including both employees (7) and their close contacts (5). The investigation is ongoing at this time and more cases may be identified related to this cluster.
Based on findings thus far, DOH does not believe this outbreak poses a risk to the general public. The department is continuing to work with the food establishment to ensure all possible precautions are being taken to prevent further spread of disease and that any close contacts of those confirmed are being closely monitored for any immediate changes to their health. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has thus far found no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.
“The health and safety of our employees and customers is our number one priority. Our organization is continuing to make changes to restaurant operations to serve food safely and conveniently with the health and well-being of restaurant employees top of mind. We have closed our Kona Commons and McDonald’s of Walmart Kona locations for deep cleaning to conduct a comprehensive sanitization of the restaurant. Our thoughts are with our crew members who have been impacted by COVID-19 and we look forward to re-opening when it is safe to do so and with the assistance of the Hawaii Department of Health in accordance with CDC regulations” said McDonald’s franchise owner, Patrick Lim of the Lim Organization.
The DOH is working closely with the Lim Organization to investigate this localized community spread of COVID-19 among all employees at the Kailua-Kona food establishment that may have been inadvertently exposed. Fortunately, the restaurant, like many other food establishments, had previously implemented social distancing measures to protect customers and prevent exposure prior to an employee testing positive. These measures included protective clear barriers between employees and customers during all transactions. These efforts may have helped to reduce the total magnitude of this cluster.