A Washington state man became the 10th person to die from the new coronavirus in Hawaii as two clusters in the islands continued to grow over the weekend.
The deceased man was in his 40s to 50s with no previous medical conditions and had a history of travel, the state Department of Health said Sunday. He had been in serious condition during an extended stay at the Maui Memorial Medical Center, where the state is investigating a cluster of COVID-19 cases at the island’s largest hospital.
A Maui Memorial spokeswoman said in an email Sunday that the man had been hospitalized for 21 days and died in the intensive care unit Saturday night.
“We share our condolences with the patient’s family and friends,” Lisa Paulson, the spokeswoman, wrote in the email.
When asked whether the man’s infection was related to the hospital cluster, Paulson said his exposure may have been “travel-related.”
The cluster has concerned some on Maui who started an online petition calling for the resignation of the hospital’s top executives, including Paulson, because of concerns about the hospital’s response to the outbreak. More than 6,000 had signed the petition by Sunday, a week after it had started.
The number of cases connected to the Maui hospital cluster swelled to 45 after three more people tested positive, the Health Department said Sunday. The state said the outbreak may have started when a health care worker went to work sick.
Those affected — 29 staff and 16 patients — have been isolated to prevent further spread of the disease.
The Washington man’s death was the state’s first fatality from the disease in just over a week and the fourth for Maui County, which had 106 positive cases Sunday.
“Every life lost in this pandemic is heartbreaking,” said Maui Mayor Michael Victorino in a statement. “I continue to ask everyone in Maui County and across our state to protect each other against the spread of this disease through social distancing and staying home for all but essential activities.”
Hawaii’s total cases stood at 580 Sunday after six new positive cases were reported, including three on Oahu, two on Maui and one on Hawaii island. More than 70% of the state’s cases — 414 people — have recovered since the state’s first case was reported March 6.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, Hawaii was tied with Montana on Sunday for the lowest infection rate in the nation with 41 cases per 100,000 residents, Time magazine reported.
Also noteworthy, Hawaii was 11th in the country for its rate of testing, according to data that vox.com updated Thursday. On Sunday the state Health Department said 24,028 had been tested in the islands for the virus.
On the Big Island a cluster involving McDonald’s workers continued to grow Sunday to include another infected worker and a third McDonald’s restaurant.
The island had 62 confirmed cases Sunday, including 30 from the cluster at three McDonald’s in Kailua-Kona. State officials said the outbreak includes 18 employees and 12 household members and likely started when an employee inadvertently infected other workers.
The newest case was an employee at the third restaurant at 75-5729 Kuakini Highway, which has since closed. The other locations that were already closed due to the outbreak are at Kona Commons and inside the Walmart in Kailua-Kona. Patrick Lim, owner-operator of the restaurants, said universal testing is being offered to employees at each of the locations.
Also Sunday, the Hawaii Tourism Authority said 109 visitors flew in to Hawaii on Saturday, an increase from the previous week when 89 visitors arrived by air. On Friday, 98 visitors arrived by plane, while 110 did so Thursday, 105 came Wednesday, 119 landed Tuesday, 164 came Monday and 91 arrived April 12.
In total, 454 people flew to the islands on 14 flights Saturday, including 157 residents and 103 crew members. The remaining passengers were intended residents or transit passengers continuing elsewhere. Air passenger arrivals, which were about 30,000 a day at this time last year, fell after Gov. David Ige mandated a 14-day quarantine for passengers arriving on trans-Pacific flights beginning March 26 because of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, dozens of people rallied at the state Capitol on Sunday, demanding the state start easing the COVID-19 restrictions.
Dubbed the “2020 Caravan to Restore Our Freedoms,” the rally drew participants who waved U.S. flags outside of cars and honked their horns while driving around the Capitol.
“Tell Ige we want the people’s house back,” one participant yelled out his car window.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that Facebook groups were forming anti-quarantine protests around the country, motivated by President Donald Trump’s tweets Friday that citizens should “liberate” their states.
LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
Also Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence said that the president will hold a conference call today with the nation’s governors and state health officials about the criteria for reopening and details on testing capabilities.
Star-Advertiser reporter Kevin Dayton contributed to this report.