Coronavirus likely to appear in Hawaii ‘sooner or later,’ state official says
The state has identified a quarantine site at a military base at Pearl Harbor for any travelers who have been to Hubei province within 14 days or are considered high-risk.
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The state has identified a quarantine site at a military base at Pearl Harbor for any travelers who have been to Hubei province within 14 days or are considered high-risk, whether or not they show symptoms of the deadly coronavirus.
State Health Director Bruce Anderson, who testified before lawmakers Monday at an emergency briefing, said “it’s very likely we will see a case in Hawaii sooner or later” and that military bases are preferred quarantine sites because of the security, limited public access and support staff to help provide meals and other services during a mandatory 14-day quarantine ordered by the Trump administration, which declared a public health emergency.
>> Photo Gallery: Secret tunnel stores state’s emergency medical supplies
The U.S. placed a temporary ban on foreign nationals who recently traveled to China — other than immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents — and ordered an unprecedented 14-day quarantine of those who visited Hubei province within two weeks. Americans returning from other areas of China within two weeks will be required to self-quarantine under the travel restrictions. Honolulu is now one of 11 airports where all flights to the U.S. from China will be funneled, though direct flights from China to Hawaii have been suspended.
“The fact that China has closed its borders or at least we’ve shut them down isn’t a panacea to this problem. It’s a pandemic now. It’s occurring everywhere,” Anderson told lawmakers. “I can guarantee that it’s not going to go away just because we’ve stopped travel from here to China, back and forth. We need to continue to be vigilant about it. These international flights are going to continue to come to Hawaii from other places where they have the disease, so we’re in this for the long haul.”
Hilton Raethal, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said “it’s just a matter of time” until the virus gets to Hawaii. The World Health Organization has declared a “global public health emergency of international concern.”
The death toll in mainland China rose to 425, with the number of cases growing to 20,438 Monday. That compares with two deaths and 45 cases on Jan. 17.
“The death rate of the flu in general is about 1 in a thousand. The death rate of the novel coronavirus is significantly higher than that. It might be 2 to 3 people per hundred, so it’s much more lethal so we’re scared of that in public,” Lt. Gov. Josh Green said at the briefing. “But as long as we do a good job preventing the spread, we’ll be fine.”
The state is scrambling to prepare supplies in the case of a local outbreak and training more personnel to help screen travelers at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. Oahu firefighters were trained to help paramedics with the screening process, including nasal swab testing, at the airport. Neighbor island firefighters will be trained in the coming weeks. But samples must be flown to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to be tested, which can take a few days. The CDC is preparing test kits to send to Hawaii in the next few weeks so that the state can do the testing locally.
Chris Crabtree, executive director of the Hawaii Healthcare Emergency Management Coalition, commissioned to maintain essential medical services in the case of chemical and biological emergencies or disasters, has assembled stockpiles of emergency supplies, including 179,000 masks, as well as other personal protective equipment and so-called iso-pods — negative-pressure isolation chambers that look like bubbles — for the most highly infectious patients needing to be transported. The supplies are stored in a nondescript Halawa warehouse and secret tunnel on Oahu.
In a media briefing Monday with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Ken Cuccinelli, a senior official performing the duties of acting deputy secretary, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the U.S. Coast Guard is also monitoring foreigners coming into ports of entry, including Honolulu Harbor, for any signs of illness.
“It’s important not just for economic reasons, but for public health and national security reasons, to try to keep those ships moving,” Cuccinelli said, adding that ship workers can be quarantined by the Coast Guard if needed.
While aircrews traveling to regions in China where the outbreak is occurring are exempted from quarantine rules, they still will be monitored.
“We are segregating them, but they are not subject to quarantine-type rules. If any of them had symptoms, that would be a different story,” he said. “We’re not looking for a 100% medically sealed border. The steps that we’re taking in the U.S. are to dramatically slow its spread and to use that time to learn more about this new virus that has literally existed on earth for less than two months.”