(BIVN) – The Hawaiʻi Department of Health announced at noon on Saturday that there was one (1) new death and 131 new cases of COVID-19 statewide. Ten (10) of those new cases were reported on Hawaiʻi island.
The health department indicated that there are 292 active cases on the Big Island, down six (6) from yesterday’s number.
As of Saturday morning, nineteen (19) total COVID-positive patients are hospitalized, Hilo Medical Center reports. Six (6) are in the ICU, and thirteen (13) are in the COVID Unit.
We note that the State of Hawaiʻi continues to report only three (3) deaths have occurred on Hawaiʻi island. Hilo Medical Center has reported eleven (11) COVID-19 related deaths. Ten (10) of those deaths are in connection with the outbreak at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo.
Mayor Harry Kim has called a news conference today at 2 p.m. on the subject of the outbreak at the Hilo veterans home.
Earlier today, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) called on Avalon Health Care, the Utah-based company that manages the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home, to review and improve its infection control policies and practices as all three of its facilities in Hawai‘i have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks. Avalon also operates the Avalon Care Center and Hale Nani Rehabilitation & Nursing Center on Oʻahu.
In a letter to Avalon’s CEO, Schatz wrote, “Given that outbreaks have occurred at all three of Avalon’s facilities in Hawai‘i, I am alarmed that Avalon’s facilities are not able to adequately protect its residents and staff. Therefore, I urge you to immediately review the practices, and in particular the staffing and infection control practices, at your facilities in Hawai‘i and in other states to identify and resolve any deficiencies that could result in the spread of COVID-19. Residents of nursing homes are some of the most vulnerable to COVID-19, and each Avalon facility needs to be sufficiently prepared to keep its residents and staff safe during the pandemic.”
A total of 66 residents and 27 employees at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home have tested positive for COVID-19. As of Saturday morning, four (4) of those residents are hospitalized at Hilo Medical Center.
Meanwhile, HOPE Services Hawaii reports an employee has tested positive for COVID-19, which means regular testing of staff and residents will increase. From HOPE Services:
HOPE Services has reported its first case of COVID-19, after receiving news that an employee who works at the Kihei Pua family shelter tested positive. The employee, who last worked August 27, immediately informed a supervisor upon learning that a family member may have been exposed to the virus. Following HOPE Services protocol the employee has been in isolation since August 30th. Although an initial test came back negative, the employee remained in isolation while follow up testing was performed. Unfortunately, the second test yielded a positive result Thursday afternoon.
Staff, vendors, and shelter residents who may have come into close contact with the employee have been notified. Kihei Pua staff and residents were tested last week and received negative results. A second round of targeted testing was performed Thursday at Kihei Pua as well as at five additional shelters in Hilo and Pahoa including Hale Maluhia, Keolahou, Hale Hanakahi, Ohea House, and Sacred Heart Shelter. In total, ninety-eight shelter guests and staff were tested Thursday.
These steps come in addition to earlier precautionary measures including regular communication memos with staff and residents enumerating CDC guidance and agency policy updates; regular mass testing of shelter residents, unsheltered individuals, and staff; restrictions on visitors and volunteers entering shelters; telework being made available whenever possible; increasing temporary shelter capacity by 93 beds at 4 new sites; the suspension of new shelter guests at 8 shelters as of August 30 due to increased community spread; and the reopening of the Hale Hanakahi micro-shelters at the NAS Pool in Hilo September 2 to welcome new shelter guests.
“I am grateful to my team for their kuleana over the last several months, which I credit for flattening the curve within the HOPE Services ohana for so long,” said CEO Brandee Menino. “As we pray for our colleague’s recovery, I ask that we remember this is a time to show compassion, as well as continued vigilance.”
During a staff meeting Friday, employees were invited to offer input on contingency plans should there be a surge among the houseless community. Tentative discussions included converting an existing shelter into an isolation facility should there be a surge in the houseless community.
Among the suggestions were a request for vacant hotel rooms or vacation rentals for frontline staff to quarantine, should they be exposed to the virus in the line of duty.
Officials from the Mayor’s Office, Department of Health, and the office of the Governor’s Coordinator on Homelessness, who were present for part of the meeting, shared information on the capacity of local units that can be used for isolation or quarantine, as well as lessons learned from the surge on Oahu.
“What we’ve learned is that our community needs more isolation and quarantine units in order to be better prepared for increased COVID positive surges,” said Menino. “While we hope the virus will be contained quickly, we are preparing for a worst case scenario, where those who need to isolate outnumber the units HOPE, the County and the Department of Health have. Part of our preparation includes asking for help from those who can provide it.”