“That is embarrassing, that is totally unacceptable,” said House Minority Leader Gene Ward (R, Hawaii Kai). “We’re really behind the curve. It’s not urgent. We’re not even taking temperature testings at the airport. We are underreacting and kind of waiting like, ‘Oh well, maybe it’s not going to happen.’”
Since the start of February when Honolulu became one of nearly a dozen U.S. airports where all flights would be funneled from China, the initial epicenter of the outbreak, the state has confirmed only two cases of COVID-19, despite the fact that more than two dozen people who were either vacationing here or returning home have contracted the disease.
Health officials said Thursday that 39 people were self-monitoring under DOH supervision, meaning health investigators are supposed to be calling, texting or videoconferencing daily during the 14-day incubation period to make sure they aren’t around the public.
DOH investigator Uyen Truong on Saturday contacted a 55-year-old Waikiki resident to inform her that she was exposed to a coronavirus-positive person at a condo board meeting five days earlier.
The resident, who asked not to be identified, said the DOH investigator followed up with an email Sunday and another call Monday, when she finally reached her, but they haven’t spoken every day.
“I think there are probably higher priorities than me. She said if I become symptomatic I should contact my health care provider,” and recommended self-isolation at home, the resident said.
“I don’t believe I’m in a high-risk category. I have still been going out. I’m asymptomatic and feel fine doing my usual stuff,” she said. “I’m not in a situation where I got direct contact with a lot of people. If going surfing I walk half a block to the beach, (or) I’m going on a bike. Of course, I do find myself cleaning surfaces — my doorknobs, light switches, stuff like that — a little more vigorously than I would ordinarily do. I’ve been a little less social than I’d ordinarily be. But for mental health I can’t stay in a 200-foot apartment.”
Health officials have confirmed only two cases of the disease locally. The first involved a person who was on a Grand Princess cruise from San Francisco to Mexico from Feb. 11 to 21. The second, an male senior who recently returned from Washington state, where most U.S. coronavirus deaths have occurred.
At least four Oahu residents are in voluntary home quarantine despite a DOH public health nurse recommendation that it is unnecessary. The four came into contact with four visitors who were on the same Hawaiian Airlines flight as a male senior who tested positive after returning home from Washington state. The visitors were never contacted by the Health Department, and they don’t have symptoms, but the residents are worried about potentially spreading the virus without knowing it.
DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo said the department contacted only passengers in the same row and the two rows in front and behind, per federal guidelines. For the rest of the passengers on the airplane, the department released information on the flight through the media.
“Our expectation, with our press conferences and communication with the media, is that information for people who have been on the flight … is going out that way,” she said. “We don’t just make these things up on our own. Our priority is to contact those individuals who may have had potential exposure on the plane. There are multiple disease investigators who are all contacting different people. They are really overburdened right now. It’s a tremendous amount of work. We are using science evidence-based practices and federal guidelines about contacting people and determining who may be at risk.”
Despite media reports Wednesday about a Canadian doctor who visited Hawaii last week and tested positive for COVID-19 upon her return to Canada, the Health Department is not tracking anyone who may have been exposed to her in the islands. They also have not found any close personal contacts for 21 cruise ship passengers on the Grand Princess that docked last month on the four main Hawaiian Islands or anyone exposed to a Japanese couple who tested positive after visiting Hawaii.
The state Capitol’s Public Access Room was abruptly closed until Wednesday after a roommate of an employee in the office had contact with a person who tested positive for the coronavirus.
The roommate is a ride-share driver who was informed Tuesday by the DOH that a passenger whom the roommate transported March 4 later tested positive for COVID-19. As a precautionary measure, health officials asked the roommate to self-quarantine for 14 days but haven’t asked the Capitol employee.
“We haven’t tested that person, and people are scared crapless in the building,” Ward said. “They have not said they tested any of them. No one has tested positive, but they’re not giving a test so they don’t know. We’re playing with people’s lives. The way we’re approaching this thing is if you’re not choking, dying or can’t breathe, you’ve got to wait on your own until you get really sick, and then they’re going to test you.”