A deputy sheriff assigned to provide security for Lt. Gov. Josh Green tested positive for COVID-19 just hours before Green announced Friday that he, too, had the virus, according to the Department of Public Safety.
The deputy last worked Tuesday, the department said, adding that one other deputy in the Executive Protection Unit assigned to Green is awaiting test results and two others have been instructed to get tested.
Green, head of Hawaii’s COVID-19 efforts, announced Friday that he had tested positive and was quarantining at his Honolulu condominium. In an interview Saturday with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Green described himself as “asymptomatic for the most part.”
Also Saturday, the state Department of Health reported one more Oahu fatality from COVID-19 and 131 new cases in Hawaii. Since the outbreak reached Hawaii in March, the state has reported 97 total deaths from COVID-19 and 10,588 infections — including 7,073 active cases.
Of the new cases reported Saturday, 115 were on Oahu, 10 were on Hawaii island and six were on Maui.
Green, who is quarantining in his son’s room, said his experience serves as a “cautionary tale” for more testing. He said the wife of the deputy sheriff who likely passed the virus on to him had COVID-19 first but ran into delays with testing.
“She sought health care, and her first experience … they didn’t test her, even though she probably warranted a test,” Green said. “She then infected her husband, and because we didn’t know her status yet or his, we all went on with our lives until our work trip to Big Island, (when) he accidentally passed it to me.”
He said if testing was more widely available, situations like his and the sheriff’s could have been avoided.
“It happens, but it’s a very important cautionary tale,” he said. “Had we had a large surplus of tests like we’re supposed to have … then anyone with a concern could get a test.”
Green, an emergency room physician, has advocated for widespread testing, more contact tracers and spaces, such as hotel rooms, where people can quarantine or isolate.
Kohala Hospital on Hawaii island, where Green was on staff Sept. 5, 6 and 7, said it immediately began contact tracing and testing all employees who were in contact with him.
Hospital Administrator Gino Amar said Saturday he contacted 11 emergency department patients who were treated by Green. So far, 17 employees and nine patients have been tested and the results are pending.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) called on Avalon Health Care to improve its infection control practices at all three of its nursing homes in Hawaii that have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks.
The health care group operates Avalon Care Center in Kalihi and Hale Nani Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in , as well as the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo, where there have been 66 cases of COVID-19 among the facility’s residents and 10 deaths. Twenty-seven staff members also tested positive.
At Hale Nani Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, 30 residents and 31 staff members have tested positive since Aug. 13. Five residents who tested positive for COVID-19 at the facility have died.
Three residents have died from COVID-19 at Avalon and seven total have tested positive, according to the company. Five staff members have tested positive.
“It is increasingly clear to me that the state home is understaffed and ill-equipped to stop this outbreak on its own,” Schatz said in a letter Saturday to the company’s CEO. “In order to stop this outbreak as soon as possible before more veterans and staff become sick and die, Avalon must make sure that every possible resource is available to this facility.
“In addition, given that outbreaks have occurred at all three of Avalon’s facilities in Hawaii, I am alarmed that Avalon’s facilities are not able to adequately protect its residents and staff,” Schatz said in a letter to the company’s CEO that he released Saturday. “Therefore, I urge you to immediately review the practices, and in particular the staffing and infection control practices, at your facilities in Hawaii and in other states to identify and resolve any deficiencies that could result in the spread of COVID-19.”
In response, Avalon spokeswoman Allison Griffith said in a statement Saturday that the company is looking forward to working with Schatz to ensure “our frontline heroes have the resources they need — specifically novel coronavirus testing and personal protective equipment, which the industry has been asking for since the outset of the pandemic — and staffing support to continue saving lives.”
“The health and safety of our residents is our top priority, period. That is what our dedicated caregivers are focused on, all day, every day,” she said.
Schatz announced Friday that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was sending a team of health care professionals to help contain the outbreak at the veterans home.
The VA team includes an infectious diseases physician, a nurse specializing in infectious diseases who has expertise in running COVID-19 units, a facilities engineer, a safety officer, an industrial hygienist and a nurse manager. Together they will conduct an on-site assessment of the Hilo veterans home for infection control issues.
The Department of Public Safety also reported Saturday that six more inmates at Oahu Community Correctional Center had tested positive for COVID-19 out of 132 inmate test results. All 16 staff test results received were negative.
DPS said there are currently no inmates hospitalized and the number who have recovered increased to 279.
A total of 307 OCCC inmates and 97 staff have tested positive for COVID-19, according to DPS. But the 43 active cases among staff and 14 among inmates indicate the department “efforts to control the outbreak at (OCCC) are working.”