For the first time in eight weeks, Hawaii had no new confirmed coronavirus cases, leaving the statewide total at 629 as of Friday. March 12 is the last time Hawaii had zero new cases. The state’s coronavirus death toll remained at 17.
“While this is good news, it does not mean, in any way, the end of the COVID-19 crisis,” State Epidemiologist Sarah Park said. “As businesses reopen, as people become more active and travel more freely, we will inevitably see an increase in cases.”
Despite the reassuring trends, health officials warn that Hawaii should be ready for a “second and potentially larger wave of the disease.”
At the peak in early April, Hawaii saw 34 cases a day on two occasions. But after the state and counties issued stay-at-home orders and the near-total shutdown of the Hawaii tourism industry, infection numbers significantly declined and government leaders declared Hawaii had successfully “flattened the curve.”
As of Friday, 63 infections were active and 566 patients — nearly 90% of those infected — had been classified by health officials as “released from isolation” since the start of the outbreak. Of the more than 34,000 COVID-19 tests conducted by state and private laboratories, less than 2% have been positive.
One Maui family had its own reason to celebrate the waning outbreak. With Mother’s Day approaching, 95-year-old Lillian Seiser has beaten the coronavirus, testing negative twice for the disease that has kept her hospitalized for 69 days.
The Maui resident’s miraculous recovery follows a life-threatening ordeal after contracting COVID-19 while hospitalized for a urinary tract infection at Maui Memorial Medical Center, where dozens of people were infected in the state’s largest coronavirus cluster.
Seiser had developed viral pneumonia, a complication of COVID-19, but has since recovered.
“I congratulated her and she was jubilant. I could hear the smile in her voice. I told her she’s a warrior, she’s so strong and that I’m just so proud of her that she rallied, persevered and pressed through despite the odds being against her,” said her daughter, Barbara Carlson, who has not been allowed to visit her mother.
Seiser was admitted to the Maui hospital on Feb. 29 and six weeks later tested positive for the coronavirus. Carlson said a doctor told her that Seiser, who had no underlying medical conditions, was infected by a health care worker.
Employees at Maui Memorial, which had 60 COVID-19 cases — 38 staff and 22 patients — have told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser they initially were prohibited from wearing their own personal protective gear and weren’t given proper PPE from the hospital, allowing the virus to spread.
By May 2, it appeared Seiser had beaten the disease after testing negative, but the next day she tested positive again. Carlson said she was informed by a hospital worker that Seiser was placed in a room with another coronavirus patient and may have been reinfected.
Maui Health, which operates the hospital and is an affiliate of Kaiser Permanente, said coronavirus patients must test negative twice before being cleared of the disease, and that under CDC guidelines, patients with the same respiratory pathogen may be housed in the same room. Seiser likely had a false negative and was not reinfected, according to Maui Health.
“We were both quite excited (about the negative tests), but this still doesn’t negate what happened and why it happened. She certainly would not have faced the challenges she has thankfully overcome if they had better protocols in place. This was all preventable,” Carlson said. “I hope that no one should have to face something like this. It was devastating for her, for me and, of course, our family and friends.”
Carlson, who lives in Pukalani, said that while her mother is “out of the woods” with the coronavirus, she still has a “couple small battles to face,” including a recurring urinary tract infection and mobility issues following her battle with the coronavirus.
“You can look at the numbers until you’re blue in the face and all the statistical model trends … we’re not talking about just numbers, we’re talking about people,” Carlson said, adding the coronavirus is among the worst challenges Seiser has faced in her long life.
Seiser lived through the Great Depression and was raised in Brooklyn by a poor, single mother — a Hungarian immigrant — after her father died when she was an infant.
“It’s just a remarkable story how she’s persevered. She stood in bread lines during the Great Depression. She went through all this stuff and managed to raise a wonderful family with a couple of kids and she just pushes forward,” Carlson said. “Her remarkable recovery is largely due to her fortitude and her strength.”
“The thing that’s particularly thrilling … is the fact that it’s Mother’s Day on Sunday and my mother’s back,” she added. “In all my life I have literally not missed one Mother’s Day with her. I’m certainly not going to miss this one if I have to climb outside her hospital, I’m getting out there. Like many others I feel my mother is so special. Between her frailty and her age and the limitations that aging puts on someone’s body in terms of her ability to recover, she’s quite a trooper.
“I thank God for allowing this to happen, for this to turn around and be such a joyous and especially wonderful Mother’s Day.”