Gov. David Ige declared a state of emergency Wednesday following the disclosure that a cruise ship that carried California’s first coronavirus fatality visited the four main Hawaiian islands last week.
The declaration allows Hawaii to use funds to act quickly in containing the spread of the virus when an outbreak occurs in the islands. The measure allows for “funding flexibility” to buy supplies and equipment and gives the governor authority to suspend any laws that may impede emergency functions.
While Hawaii still has no confirmed cases, state health officials are monitoring developments involving the ship that stopped on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island with passengers who may have been previously exposed to the new illness, known as COVID-19.
Two former passengers who tested positive for the coronavirus, including an elderly California man who died, were on the Grand Princess cruise ship’s voyage from San Francisco to Mexico from Feb. 11 to Feb. 21.
The same ship was later used for another cruise that docked at Kauai’s Nawiliwili Harbor on Feb. 26; Honolulu on Feb. 27; Lahaina, Maui, on Friday; and Hilo on Saturday before departing the next day for San Francisco, its port of origin.
The ship has the capacity to carry more than 3,100 passengers and 1,150 crew members, though it is unknown how many are currently on board. However, state officials at a news conference Wednesday said at least 54 people on the Hawaii tour were crossover passengers from the earlier cruise to Mexico. Representatives of ship operator Princess Cruise Lines couldn’t be reached for comment.
The cruise operator offers tours on Oahu that include Diamond Head Crater, Pali Lookout and Hanauma Bay, as well as Pearl Harbor, Polynesian Cultural Center, Kualoa Ranch, Bishop Museum, Iolani Palace and Waikiki Beach. State officials said they were unaware of the itineraries of the passengers on the ship.
A crew member who fell ill on the Hawaii leg was admitted to Hilo Medical Center but tested negative Tuesday for the virus that has sickened more than 95,000 globally and killed more than 3,200, including 11 in the United States.
Another sick passenger, who tested negative for the flu, is being quarantined on the ship, which is scheduled to arrive in San Francisco today. That person will likely be tested upon arrival by San Francisco health authorities working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state officials said. They noted that about 20 other passengers on the cruise ship have exhibited flu-like symptoms, three of whom tested positive for influenza. COVID-19 has similar symptoms.
“As far as we know the only disease that’s being transmitted on that ship right now is the flu. At this time there’s no threat to anyone in Hawaii,” Health Director Bruce Anderson said at the news conference.
“We are working with CDC in this situation as we would in any situation like this. They are actively pursuing this,” he said. “CDC has not identified any specific risk for Hawaii.”
State epidemiologist Sarah Park said if the quarantined individual tests positive for the coronavirus, local health authorities will begin an investigation of all close contacts that may have been exposed.
“There is obviously a flu cluster on this cruise ship, whether there’s something else going on that is something that I anticipate public health authorities in California along with CDC will be determining,” she said. “There is no reason for us to track anyone (right now). All it does is scare people unnecessarily, frankly.”
There are currently no recommendations to limit passenger travel by cruise ship or aircraft within the United States, though vessels that have stopped in China in the past 14 days are prohibited from entering U.S. waters.
The death of the cruise ship passenger triggered declaration of a state of emergency by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, followed shortly by the same proclamation by Ige.
The mayors of Maui, Kauai and Honolulu are issuing their own emergency proclamations, following Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim’s declaration on Friday.
“Our number one priority is the health and safety of our communities across the state. COVID-19 has prompted the World Health Organization to declare a public health emergency of international concern,” Ige said in a news release. “This emergency proclamation will give us the ability to move more quickly and efficiently in our efforts to protect our communities from the virus and provide emergency relief if and when it is necessary.”
The emergency period runs through April 29.
“At this point in time we don’t believe there’s widespread community spread of COVID-19,” Ige said.