Hawaii public schools will remain closed for an additional week of spring break to allow school administrators and staff time to evaluate and respond to newly emerging recommendations for controlling the spread of COVID-19, Gov. David Ige announced Sunday.
In addition, ‘Iolani School said Sunday it is suspending all on-campus academic operations indefinitely after it learned that a parent of a student has been tested for COVID-19 and is awaiting results. Kamehameha Schools Kapalama also announced that it would start its spring break Tuesday rather than March 23 as scheduled.
The decisions came as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state increased to seven.
Regularly scheduled spring break for public schools begins today and was to end Friday, with classes resuming March 23. Classes are now on hold until March 30, but “obviously, that is subject to change depending on what the conditions are,” Ige said.
The extended break applies to all public schools, charter schools, track schools, A+ and early learning classrooms. Federally funded Head Start and Pre-Plus programs will also be affected.
“During this time, school leadership and the public school system will be preparing plans to implement social distancing as recommended by the (Centers for Disease Control) when students return,” Ige said. “It really is about changing how schools conduct classes. Virtually everything they do will be evaluated so that we can implement appropriate social distancing activities that will allow us to keep our schools safe.”
Ige said the break will also allow schools to identify and sanitize “high-touch” areas in classrooms and on school grounds.
Acknowledging that all coronavirus cases in Hawaii identified thus far have been travel-related, Ige said school closures could be considered on a case-by-case basis if the virus starts to spread within the community. However, both he and state schools Deputy Superintendent Phyllis Unebasami emphasized that the immediate goal was to minimize disruption to students and their families while ensuring a safe, stable environment at school.
Planning is underway with schools to reach out to students who receive breakfast and lunch service to ensure the students do not go hungry during the hiatus, Unebasami said.
State Senate Vice President and Education Chairwoman Michelle Kidani said the measures were needed, and encouraged employers to consider alternate work arrangements for employees who might need to stay home to take care of children.
Ige said the state has adequate broadband capacity to accommodate an increase in work-at-home activity as well as the move to all- online instruction for the indefinite future recently announced by the University of Hawaii system.
Iolani Head of School Timothy Cottrell said the decision to close the private school was made “out of an abundance of caution and following the advice of medical experts.”
The school, which had been preparing for such a contingency, will implement a distance-learning plan this week before starting its regularly scheduled spring break Friday. Online instruction will resume March 30. No date has been set for students to return to classrooms.
“The option to reopen remains and will be evaluated based on community conditions and safety,” Cottrell said in a statement released Sunday. “At this time, summer programs are still scheduled to take place as are full operations for the next school year.”
At Kamehameha, boarding students will be required to attend classes today; attendance is optional for all others. Students are tentatively scheduled to return to school April 6.
On Sunday, state officials announced the seventh confirmed case of the new coronavirus in Hawaii. The Oahu resident returned with family March 8 from a trip to Florida and developed a cough the following day. A sample was collected for testing Wednesday.
The person is self-isolating at home in a bedroom with an attached bathroom. The family was advised to remain in self-quarantine away from the infected person.
The announcement came close on the heels of two other confirmed cases announced Saturday evening.
In one case an Oahu resident fell ill two days after returning from a weeklong trip to Colorado. That person was advised to self-quarantine. A child who resides with the person experienced respiratory symptoms but tested negative for the disease. The child, who is enrolled in preschool, is not considered a risk to infect others, but will remain at home for the duration of the quarantine period.
In the other case an Air Canada flight attendant tested positive for the virus while on Maui. The attendant last flew March 8 and experienced symptoms March 9. A specimen was collected Wednesday for testing by a private lab. The person initially self-isolated at the Royal Lahaina Hotel before being transported to a more isolated facility following confirmation of the results.
The state Department of Health learned that the attendant was exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 case in Germany on March 4. The department said risk to other passengers on the flight was very low.
All three positive tests were conducted by Clinical Labs of Hawaii as part of an expanded effort to use private laboratories for COVID-19 testing.
“As the private labs begin testing, we anticipate seeing many additional cases,” Ige said.
Not counted on the state tally is Lisa Merck, a nurse practitioner from Crested Butte, Colo., who tested positive after returning home following a two-week vacation in Hawaii back in February. State Epidemiologist Sarah Park said Merck was in contact with state health officials in Colorado who determined that Merck was infected in Colorado.
Turtle Bay Resort, where Merck and her husband stayed from Feb. 5 to 9, learned of the case and responded by notifying those who may have come into contact with Merck, sanitizing affected facilities and removing the room the couple occupied from its available inventory.
Coincidentally, the room that the Mercks occupied was closed and unoccupied for five days after Merck’s stay due to a previously scheduled upgrade.