A Canadian doctor who visited Hawaii last week has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, but state health officials are not currently tracking those who may have been exposed through close contact with her in the islands.
The 32-year-old oncologist at the Hamilton Health Sciences Juravinski Cancer Centre returned Saturday to Burlington, Ontario, following a trip to Hawaii and developed mild respiratory symptoms on Monday afternoon, according to the hospital. She became the city’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 on Tuesday and is currently in self isolation.
While Canadian health authorities acknowledge it was a “travel- related case,” local officials still don’t know where she visited while in Hawaii and who she may have had “close personal face-to-face contact” with for more than 10 minutes.
“We understand that people believe that when there are issues in other countries that might have been related to travel here that people want information. However … usually we defer to federal authorities to work with other countries,” said Janice Okubo, state Department of Health spokeswoman. “That’s a little outside of our range of jurisdiction. We don’t know if this individual was actually ill in Hawaii. We’re relying on our federal authorities (specifically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), to provide us with information on international issues.”
Dr. Hamidah Meghani, medical officer of health and commissioner for the Hamilton Region Health Department in Ontario, said at a news conference that Canadian health officials are “working closely to identify all known contacts who may have been potentially exposed to the virus and to assess if there is a potential health risk.”
The doctor, who was working at the cancer center on Monday, treated 14 patients and had contact with two physicians, five health care workers and a senior oncology resident, but was not sick on her return flight home, according to Canadian news reports.
Meanwhile, the state Capitol’s Public Access Room was abruptly closed until March 18 after a roommate of an employee in the office reportedly had contact with a person who tested positive for the coronavirus.
The roommate is a ride-share driver who was informed by the DOH on Tuesday that a passenger whom the roommate transported on March 4 later tested positive for COVID-19. Staff at the Capitol said they were told the passenger was the Canadian doctor, but the Health Department said it has no information about that case.
“As a precautionary measure, DOH asked the roommate to self-quarantine for 14 days,” according to a news release distributed by the state Senate. “At no time have either the roommate or the employee of the Public Access Room exhibited any symptoms. Therefore, based upon CDC guidelines and DOH current policies, they were not tested by the Hawaii Department of Health and are extremely unlikely to have been infected. All essential functions of the Hawaii State Legislature will continue.”
A source at the state Capitol said legislative leaders are checking to see which lawmakers or their staff members spent significant amounts of time in the access room, which is designed to assist members of the public who want to lobby for issues or follow the legislative process.
Health officials have confirmed only two cases of the disease locally and are currently awaiting test results for six other suspected cases. The first involved a person who was on a Grand Princess cruise from San Francisco to Mexico from Feb. 11 to 21. The second is an elderly man who recently returned from Washington state, where most U.S. coronavirus deaths have occurred. He was in critical condition at Kaiser Permanente’s Moanalua Medical Center, while health care workers exposed to the patient were being monitored for 14 days.
DOH investigators are still searching for close contacts of the two confirmed cases, as well as those exposed to the 21 people who contracted COVID-19 on the Grand Princess cruise ship that docked last month on four of the main Hawaiian islands.
The state Laboratories Division and Tripler Army Medical Center have tested another 23 people who were negative for novel coronavirus and are monitoring 41 others in self quarantine.
The potential community spread of the virus — which federal authorities now consider to be 10 times deadlier than the flu — has led to the cancellation of both small and large events over the past few weeks.
The Health Department temporarily suspended tours to Kalaupapa National Historical Park as a precaution to protect “the vulnerable population of patients” until April 11 and the Department of Education has canceled all school and department-related travel to the mainland and international locations through the end of the school year.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green said regional testing centers, including Windward Urgent Care, will start swabbing for novel coronavirus as early as this weekend. The Queen’s Medical Center and other health care operators are also considering outpatient testing, he said, adding that he is in talks with the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine and the Hawaii Healthcare Emergency Management Coalition, which can set up mobile testing if necessary.
Urgent Care Hawaii is offering curbside screenings for individuals with fevers of 103 degrees or higher and other symptoms.
The DOH is starting a statewide surveillance program this week to find out if there is community spread. Private laboratories such as Clinical Labs of Hawaii and Diagnostic Laboratory Services, also began offering COVID-19 testing services Tuesday.
The virus had sickened more than 126,000 as of Wednesday, with the death toll rising to more than 4,600 globally. There are now more than 1,300 cases in the United States and more than 30 fatalities.