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Second cluster of Hawaii coronavirus cases found at McDonald’s in Kona

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM 
                                State Health Director Bruce Anderson used the situation in Kailua-Kona to point out Tuesday how quickly the new coronavirus can spread among people in close proximity.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    State Health Director Bruce Anderson used the situation in Kailua-Kona to point out Tuesday how quickly the new coronavirus can spread among people in close proximity.

Hawaii health officials are investigating the state’s second cluster of COVID-19 infections, this one among employees at McDonald’s locations in Kailua-Kona.

An employee who contracted the new coronavirus inadvertently infected six other workers at McDonald’s locations on Makala Boulevard at Kona Commons and at Walmart in Kailua-Kona. Both restaurants have since closed operations.

In addition, five family members exposed to two of the COVID-positive employees have contracted the virus, bringing the number of connected cases to 12. Health Director Bruce Anderson earlier mistakenly said the total infected was 14.

The DOH said there is no risk to patrons because “the restaurant was taking necessary physical distancing measures to protect customers.”

“Fortunately the restaurant like many food establishments had previously implemented social distancing measures to protect customers and prevent exposure prior to an employee testing positive,” the department said. “Employees who have tested positive are in isolation and exposed employees without symptoms are in self quarantine at home. DOH does not believe this outbreak poses a risk to the general public. The department is continuing to work with the restaurant to ensure all possible precautions are being taken to prevent further spread of disease.” The Food and Drug Administration has said there is no evidence of food or packaging being involved in novel coronavirus transmission.

McDonald’s franchise owner Patrick Lim assured that the company is making changes to restaurant operations “to serve food safely and conveniently with the health and well-being of restaurant employees top of mind” amid the outbreak.

“The health and safety of our employees and customers is our number one priority. We have closed our Kona Commons and McDonald’s of Walmart Kona locations for deep cleaning to conduct a comprehensive sanitization of the restaurant,” he said. “Our thoughts are with our crew members who have been impacted by COVID-19 and we look forward to reopening when it is safe to do so.”

Anderson used the situation to point to how quickly the virus can spread among people in close proximity.

“It just goes to show how quickly this disease can be spread in facilities and of course in your home, and why we need to be so vigilant in ensuring we’re maintaining our social distancing and using protective equipment,” he said.

Hawaii’s first cluster of health care workers infected with the novel coronavirus was discovered on Maui.

The outbreak among front-line employees at Maui Memorial Medical Center has grown to 34 people, including two health care workers and one patient. Maui County Mayor Mike Victorino said Monday that there was possibly a second Maui cluster, but he gave no further details.

The DOH said it has delivered six pallets of protective gear to ensure the Wailuku hospital, which was rationing masks and other supplies, has sufficient personal protective equipment for its workforce.

Health officials said there is enough protective gear to cover immediate needs, but they are worried about having the supplies needed for a future surge in infections.

“There is not an unlimited supply of PPE available to our state,” Gov. David Ige said Tuesday at the daily COVID-19 briefing. “We are doing everything possible to secure an adequate supply of PPE for our health care system, but there are ongoing challenges we are facing, the same challenges faced by every other state.”

The state’s tally of coronavirus cases has increased by 13, to 517, with the death toll standing at nine. The cases include seven infected crew members on the Pride of America cruise ship docked in Honolulu.

A total of 333 patients in Hawaii have recovered since the start of the outbreak — with more than 64% of those infected being symptom-free for seven days. State and clinical laboratories in the islands have conducted 19,591 coronavirus tests so far.

Meanwhile, health officials are calling for volunteers to help in the fight against the coronavirus. The Healthcare Association of Hawaii and the DOH are recruiting both medical and nonmedical volunteers to create the Medical Reserve Corps.

They are seeking licensed health care professionals not working in a clinical role to consider volunteering, including retired and out-of-state professionals, individuals who previously held a clinical license, physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, radiology technologists, EMTs, community health workers and other nonmedical roles.

“While we’ve not seen a large surge of COVID-19 patients … we want to continue to prepare for what may occur in the future,” said Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.

Health officials reported only five new cases Monday, the lowest daily total for Hawaii in nearly three weeks. They expressed hope that the low tally was evidence that Hawaii was “flattening the curve,” but cautioned the public to not read too much into the low number, saying it’s likely a reflection of the rate of test reporting over the Easter weekend.

“Had we not sacrificed so much by staying home, not going to work, sacrificing the economy … we would have had 5,000 more cases,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green, adding that Hawaii could have seen 50 deaths by now. “For every 100 cases, you have an individual that ends up on a ventilator and potentially dying. Please do not become overconfident, and see this through to April 30. To have 50 deaths would’ve been a greater sacrifice for us.”

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