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VIDEO: Asymptomatic firefighter may have spread coronavirus at Kalihi Uka firehouse, official says

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Honolulu Fire Department Chief Manuel P. Neves speaks during a news conference today at Honolulu Hale.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Honolulu Fire Department Chief Manuel P. Neves speaks during a news conference today at Honolulu Hale.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Mayor Kirk Caldwell speaks at a news conference at Honolulu Hale today. Caldwell asked for people to continue to stay at home, work from home, practice social distancing and wear cloth masks while outdoors.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Mayor Kirk Caldwell speaks at a news conference at Honolulu Hale today. Caldwell asked for people to continue to stay at home, work from home, practice social distancing and wear cloth masks while outdoors.

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A Honolulu Fire Department firefighter who was infected by the coronavirus may have transmitted the disease to another firefighter at the Kalihi Uka firehouse while he was still asymptomatic, a city official said today.

Dr. Jill Omori, the city’s infectious disease officer, said there has been more information recently about asymptomatic people being able to transmit the virus.

“It’s thought that even though the first firefighter went to work when he was asymptomatic, that was probably within 24 to 48 hours before he started becoming symptomatic, and so it was enough time for them to have exposure to the other firefighters in that same unit,” Omori said.

Omori, speaking at a news conference this afternoon with HFD Chief Manuel Neves and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, said the first firefighter who tested positive went to work after returning from his vacation but stayed at home after beginning to feel symptoms.

The Kalihi Uka station closed midway Tuesday to be cleaned and disinfected after the second firefighter there tested positive. Firefighters from nearby stations responded to Kalihi Uka’s calls during the closure period.

The firefighters exposed to the two colleagues at the Kalihi Uka firehouse who tested positive have been ordered to stay at home and self-isolate for 14 days but have not themselves necessarily been tested. Firefighters from elsewhere are filling the shift of those sidelined in self-isolation.

Omori said testing is only being conducted for those showing symptoms as has generally been recommended.

“Just because you’re exposed to somebody (who tested positive) and even if you are going to at some point become positive, we don’t test during the asymptomatic period because the viral load isn’t high enough to detect it and so even if you get a negative test … it’s like a false sense of security because that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re negative.”

Neves said a total of about a dozen firefighters have been tested for the coronavirus, but there is no mandate for those at the station or the department to do so.

The department already has a standard guideline for disinfecting and sanitizing fire stations, he said, but the department in recent days obtained five units that provide an electrostatic method of cleaning the fire stations and fire trucks. Oahu Transit Services, which operates TheBus and TheHandivan, has been deploying electrostatic cleaning methods for several weeks.

All 43 stations are expected to be cleaned in this method in the coming days, Neves said.

The department currently has enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to deal with current needs, but “if the use explodes to an unbelievable amount, then we may not have,” the chief said.

Watch the news conference below:


Also announced at the news conference today:

>> The city, Maui and Kauai counties were told by the White House today that it has received their request to have President Trump suspend all air travel between Hawaii and elsewhere. The White House said it needed to hear from Gov. David before making a decision, Caldwell said.

>> The mayor urged all Oahu residents to begin wearing homemade masks when they travel outside their houses. Kuakini Medical Center emergency room Dr. Darragh O’Carroll said up to 20% of those infected don’t show any symptoms so could be spreading the virus to others.

>> Caldwell is amending his stay-at-home order to exempt online car sales and leases but only for customers who are deemed essential workers and in urgent need of transportation.

>> The mayor urged the public to report cases of businesses that are operating outside of the stay-at-home, work-from-home order to the city at 768-CITY. “We’re getting more and more calls now about people complaining about businesses that are open and are not essential and should be closed.” If the businesses persist, they will be visited by Honolulu police, he said.

>> The annual Memorial Day service scheduled for May 25 at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl is canceled.

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

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