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3 COVID-19 deaths in Hawaii and 221 more cases reported by Department of Health

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                                A line of cars snaked up the H-3 freeway towards the Harano Tunnel for COVID-19 testing on Thursday.


    A line of cars snaked up the H-3 freeway towards the Harano Tunnel for COVID-19 testing on Thursday.

The state Department of Health reported three new COVID-19 deaths and 221 new cases Saturday, bringing the statewide totals since the beginning of the outbreak to 84 fatalities and 9,693 infections.

No details were provided about the latest deaths, although the DOH reported they were Oahu residents.

Since the start of the pandemic, 72 deaths have occurred on Oahu, eight on Maui and three on Hawaii island, while one was a Kauai resident who died on the mainland. Meanwhile, the U.S. death toll climbed to over 188,000.

As of Saturday, 6,678 infections are considered active cases statewide, with a total of 2,931 patients now classified by the DOH as “released from isolation,” or about 30% of those infected. The category counts those infected people who have met the criteria for being released from isolation. Seventy-six new release cases were reported Saturday.

The total new cases on Saturday included 191 on Oahu, 24 on Hawaii island, five in Maui County and one case of a Hawaii resident diagnosed while outside of the state. As a result of updated information, one case was removed from the Oahu tally.

The breakdown of coronavirus cases by county since the start of the outbreak shows 8,765 cases on Oahu, 493 in Hawaii County, 352 in Maui County and 57 in Kauai County.

An outbreak at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo is continuing, with eight more residents and one staff testing positive for COVID-19, according to a Saturday news release from veterans home administrators.

There are now 54 residents who have tested positive for the virus and 41 being cared for at a dedicated COVID-19 unit in the facility. Three are being cared for at a hospital and five have recovered.

Five residents at the veterans home have died from COVID-19, according to administrators, who retracted Friday’s report of a sixth death, saying tests showed the resident did not have the virus when he died.

“His (polymerase chain reaction) test was pending at the time of his death, and upon transfer to the hospital, a rapid antigen test came back positive,” a news release said. “A day later, the PCR test returned negative, which means the resident was not positive for COVID-19 at the time of his death. The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) considers the PCR test to be more accurate and definitive than the rapid antigen test.”

Eighteen employees at the veterans home have tested positive for COVID-19 and are being isolated at home until medically cleared to return to work.

There are approximately 80 residents and over 140 staff members at the facility, according to Allison Griffiths, spokeswoman from Avalon Health Care Group, a health care services provider that runs the Hilo veterans home as well as the Avalon Care Center in Kalihi and Hale Nani Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Honolulu.

Hale Nani has experienced its own COVID-19 clusters among patients and staff. As of Wednesday, Hale Nani reported that a total of 30 residents and 26 employees had tested positive since the beginning of the latest outbreak Aug. 13, and that two COVID-positive residents died.

During an outbreak in June, 12 Hale Nani residents and six staff members tested positive.

Both Lt. Gov. Josh Green and U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D, Hawaii) noted the outbreak at the Hilo veterans home.

Green said more deaths are expected, as seniors with COVID-19 have a greater risk of death than other age groups.

“When this kind of thing happens, we do expect to see fatalities,” he said in an Instagram post Saturday.

Schatz said the state should seek assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“The state should ask VA to share infection control specialists, provide additional testing, and continue to share (personal protective equipment) to get this under control,” Schatz said in a news release. “Residents of senior homes are some of the most vulnerable to COVID-19. That’s why it is also absolutely critical that the facility follows infection control guidelines and that the state dramatically expands testing at these facilities to continue to protect these vulnerable residents and their care workers.”

The Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home administration reported frequent testing at the facility. All residents and staff have been tested for COVID-19 five times since Aug. 23, most recently on Saturday.

Griffiths said she doesn’t believe the outbreak will get worse going forward.

“You’ll see a bunch of positives on the front end, and unfortunately deaths often accompany that,” she said. “And then typically what we see is that it will plateau off. … We’re kind of on the backside of that hill.”

In other COVID-19 developments:

>> The City and County of Honolulu on Monday will conduct COVID-19 testing at another facility for seniors — the West Loch Elderly Village in Ewa Beach — after two individuals living at the facility recently tested positive for the virus.

>> Four more staff members at Oahu Community Correctional Center have tested positive for COVID-19, the state Department of Public Safety reported Saturday, but no additional infections were reported in inmates at the Kalihi prison.

A total of 49 employees and 59 inmates — all at OCCC — are active cases, DPS said.

>> Surge testing for COVID-19 is continuing across the state, with 16 locations listed on as of Saturday. The number of people getting tested has dropped off since surge testing began Aug. 26, according to data provided by the DOH. There were only a handful of people getting tested at Aloha Stadium around 1 p.m. Saturday.

The number of test results reported by the DOH per day spiked starting Aug. 27 but are now back to rates closer to those prior to surge testing, DOH said.

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