A Japanese tourist who was on Oahu and Maui in recent weeks was confirmed with the new coronavirus, and state health officials are monitoring at least one Hawaii resident who may have been exposed to the deadly virus.
John Fujiwara, who lives in the Ala Moana area, said he was contacted twice Friday by the Department of Health after a brief home visit Feb. 4 from his friend Teruhito (Ted) Fujii, 65, who fit the profile of the man confirmed with the virus in Japan.
“I sure feel fine. I played racquetball two days ago, went shopping at Costco today. I really hope I’m fine,” said Fujiwara, who was advised by DOH investigator Kozue Kobayashi to continue with his daily activities because he is considered low-risk for the disease. “They told me I was low-risk because I’m not showing any symptoms after 10 days. However, they will be calling me on a daily basis to check to see if I show any symptoms.”
Health officials would not confirm or deny that Fujii had contracted the disease.
“I was just going to stay home for the next four days and eat instant noodles,” Fujiwara said. “The state Department of Health called me and asked me many questions about exposure, how I feel, and about Ted’s travel plans. I answered all their questions. My concern is that from my understanding of the virus … people can have it and be a carrier and not show any symptoms.”
Fujii, a Hilton Grand Vacations club member who was traveling with his wife, was supposed to host an online meet-up event in Nagoya on Friday but did not show up and has been unreachable by phone, Fujiwara said, adding that his friend also attended an online meet-up at the nearby Don Quijote after leaving his home.
Health officials said at an emergency news conference Friday that they are working on identifying any potential exposure and tracking close contacts of a Japanese male in his 60s who was on Maui from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3 and on Oahu from Feb. 3 to 7. The man stayed at the Grand Waikikian by Hilton Grand Vacations timeshare property and started having coldlike symptoms while on Oahu. Representatives of Hilton didn’t return requests for comment.
He developed a 102-degree fever Feb. 8 and was subsequently hospitalized, diagnosed with pneumonia and tested positive for the virus, called COVID-19, according to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Fujii, who lives in Nagoya in Aichi prefecture, had the same travel itinerary.
“We do believe this is a serious concern. I just want to assure you that this scenario is exactly what we’ve been preparing for and are prepared to respond,” said Gov. David Ige. “We are taking the necessary actions that we need to ensure the safety of our community. Know that this raises a concern for all of us.”
The Health Department has sent a medical advisory to health care providers to be on alert for possible cases of the disease that has killed more than 1,500, mostly in China, and infected more than 67,000 globally. But with flu season in full swing, it is difficult to differentiate the two viruses, which have similar symptoms.
“There’s a heavy flu season ongoing, especially on the mainland. Before we sound off the alarm, we need to make sure regular flu tests are done. More likely, that is still going to be more common,” said state Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park.
There is currently no way to test for the virus locally. Instead, tests are sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and can take a week or more to get back. The CDC is reformulating coronavirus tests after sending flawed kits to Hawaii.
Health officials said the tourist most likely contracted the virus in Japan or while in transit to Hawaii. Japan recorded its second death from the virus, with the individual having no travel history to China where the outbreak is occurring.
“For people casually exposed who happened to be walking in the same room nearby, we would not consider them to be at increased risk,” said Health Director Bruce Anderson, adding that hotel and airline workers should take normal precautions to keep germs at bay. “The only class of workers we feel are at increased risk from the virus are health care workers. We’ll continue to investigate until we’re sure there hasn’t been any undue exposure to Hawaii residents.”
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