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Sen. Nishihara in quarantine as Legislature closes indefinitely

                                Clarence Nishihara


    Clarence Nishihara

Just hours after he was notified he tested positive for the new coronavirus, state Sen. Clarence Nishihara found himself confined Thursday to a bedroom in his Waipahu home without even a TV to pass the time.

Nishihara, 76, has no fever, no sniffles and no cough, but his wife is playing it safe. “She tells me, ‘Stay in the room.’ I feel like I’m in prison now, the guards come by to serve you your food or something,” he said.

He has books and a laptop “but not much else. But it’s nice that people call and ask you how you doing.”

“I guess I’ll be blamed for shutting down the whole Legislature now,” he said.

Health officials believe Nishihara may have picked up the coronavirus during a recent visit to Las Vegas, where he visited the downtown Main Street Station and California Hotel & Casino and played the slot machines. His gambling preference is probably for the best, since “usually slot machines are the lonely one, you don’t interact with people,” Nishihara said.

“My luck was really bad. It kind of sucked over there. I was wishing I hadn’t gone,” he said ruefully. “Now it’s all shut down, you can’t go anywhere.”

Nishihara’s predicament has caused an uproar in the state Capitol, which was ordered shut down Thursday. House Speaker Scott Saiki instructed workers at the Capitol on Thursday to leave the facility as soon as possible and not return until given clearance to do so.

Citing the Legislature’s emergency operations plan, Saiki said the Capitol will be closed until April 5, and he will notify staff if further closure is necessary.

Senate President Ron Kouchi sent a memo to all staff informing them of the positive test result, and the memo recommends that all Senate offices close until further notice, according to the statement.

Capitol employees who believe they are showing symptoms of the coronavirus are being called back for tests, but Nishihara is miles away from all of that. His two-week quarantine started Thursday.

Nishihara said he felt sort of lousy in February and had a fever for about a week. His doctor gave him a flu test, which was negative. Since the fever was gone, Nishihara asked whether he could make his planned trip to Las Vegas, and his doctor said yes.

He was in Las Vegas from Feb. 22 to 25, but when he came back, Nishihara said, he still wasn’t feeling quite right, as if he had a slight cold. He visited an urgent care clinic and told them about his February symptoms, and was tested for coronavirus March 12. The results came back positive at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

The clinic is guessing Nishihara picked up the virus in Las Vegas because people were catching it there, and they believe his fever in February was probably unrelated, he said.

Nishihara, a Democrat in his fourth term who represents Waipahu, Crestview, Manana, Pearl City and Pacific Palisades, said he hopes so. He said he may be part of the lucky group of people who might pick up the coronavirus but experience little discomfort from it.

He is generally in good health, with no heart or lung problems or surgeries, but doesn’t get a great deal of exercise, he said. “Only from getting out of my car and walking to my office,” he said with laugh.

What is likely causing particular alarm at the Capitol is that Nishihara returned to work the first week in March — all of his symptoms were gone by then — and he attended meetings. Those meetings included a caucus with other Senate Democrats that included a discussion of the coronavirus and how to respond to it.

“I can see how people are surprised when they find they test positive, because they don’t seem to show anything,” he said.

With the session on hold indefinitely, Nishihara predicts lawmakers will need to work well into May or beyond.

“I think it’s going to be an extended session because we’ve got to have these things heard and bills to be considered,” he said. “The last day, whatever work we had, the hearings and stuff, we just had them sitting on the table, and when you back the next day, it’s still sitting where they were, you can’t do anything.”

“I’d rather go back than be sitting in my room,” he said. “At least one thing I won’t have to do is, I won’t have to walk the dog now.”

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