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Mayor Caldwell says no coronavirus cases tied to employee retirement party at Honolulu Hale

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / OCT. 24, 2018
                                A retirement party held at Honolulu Hale is believed have been the source of an outbreak of <a href="https://www.staradvertiser.com/coronavirus/" target="_blank">COVID-19</a> positive cases in the city hall building, <a href="https://www.staradvertiser.com/2020/08/12/breaking-news/hawaii-records-202-new-coronavirus-cases-lt-gov-josh-green-says/" target="_blank">state health officials said</a> today, but a city spokesman said no positive virus cases were tied to the July 24 event.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / OCT. 24, 2018

    A retirement party held at Honolulu Hale is believed have been the source of an outbreak of COVID-19 positive cases in the city hall building, state health officials said today, but a city spokesman said no positive virus cases were tied to the July 24 event.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell said today no one who attended a retirement party held at Honolulu Hale several weeks ago has tested positive for COVID-19.

Instead, clusters have been the result of employees gathering in lunchrooms or other interactions, he said.

State health officials reported earlier in the day issued a release that said: “An employee potluck at Honolulu Hale is a potential transmission source for 11 cases of illness among City and County of Honolulu workers.”

But Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo later stressed that the party was only note as a “potential source of transmission” and that the investigation is ongoing.

A flier obtained by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser said a farewell party was to take place in the building on July 24 for a longtime employee in the Purchasing Division, which is an arm of the Department of Budget and Fiscal Services. Bentos were being offered for $10. “Let’s have fun under the sun,” the flier said.

On Aug. 3, Caldwell issued an executive order banning indoor and outdoor social gatherings on Oahu of more than 10 people due to the surge on COVID-19 cases on Oahu.

The Purchasing Division is on the first floor, Diamond Head side of Honolulu Hale. During normal times, the office is where contractors obtain information about upcoming bids, drop off their bids or proposals, and may be present for the opening of bids.

Caldwell, in a hastily called Zoom press availability today, said city officials did their own investigation and found no one from the gathering tested positive. The event was held on the Diamond Head lawn of the building, people were required to wear masks and practice social distancing, and attendees wished the retiree well and returned to their offices with their bentos, he said.

“We know of no positives from this retirement party that was held on Friday, July 24,” he said. At least 25-30 people attended the party although those attending were not allowed to linger, he said.

He said if he had known of the gathering in advance, he would have told organizers not to hold it despite the social distancing guidelines they followed.

The mayor acknowledged that city employees elsewhere have been gathering for lunch in lunchrooms and around water coolers since he put out a new executive order last week urging people to distance themselves from people not within their immediate families.

“We learned that city employees have been gathering in lunchrooms and in other places, it could be in a conference room that’s vacant, to talk story or to have lunch and those kinds of things,” Caldwell said.

Outside of City Hall, “we do know that there have been other gatherings in other parts of the city whether they be pau hana parties or, in certain cases, parties on the beach before we shut down our beaches that we’re no doubling back to say ‘you can’t do this, we do not want you to do this.’”

In a memo issued to all city employees today, Caldwell said, “we do know that COVID-19 positive clusters at the city have, in some cases, originated in gatherings in lunchrooms and other areas, when strict mask was not practiced and physical distancing guidelines were not followed.”

The mayor urged employees to practice those guidelines because “now is not the time to let our guard down.”

Mayor Kirk Caldwell shut down Honolulu Hale to the public effective Tuesday after he announced Monday that he learned that morning of a cluster of 11 employees, including one person from his personal administrative staff. Exceptions are being made for those who need to drop bill payments, plans or other documents.

He also told those city employees who can telework from outside the office to do so.

City officials said Monday that they knew of 49 positive cases among city employees who work around the island. Of those, they said, nine came from the Department of Budget and Fiscal Services.

Zannes said 474 city employees from Honolulu Hale as well as the nearby Mission Memorial building and the Frank Fasi Municipal Building tested at a makeshift testing station in the Honolulu Hale courtyard on Monday.

Among those tested were Caldwell and himself, Zannes said. Both came back negative, he said.

The city will not release additional information, including how many people tested positive, “until all the results are in and all employees have been informed,” Zannes said. The testing was not mandatory for employees.

Caldwell, during his press availability, said he did know that two people who tested Monday had come back with positive results.

BFS Deputy Director Manny Valbuena, in a memo to department staff Tuesday, said one of those people was an employee with the administrative staff of BFS.

Scores of people showed up at Honolulu Hale last week to vote or drop off their votes by Saturday’s 7 p.m. primary election deadline.

Dr. Scott Miscovich, who headed the Premier Medical Group team that conducted testing Monday at City Hall, said he did not believe anyone from the public who showed up for voting last week was exposed to anyone with the coronavirus while there, and that he did not think they need to be tested.

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