Dole Middle School counselor Angie Choi urged the Board of Education today to allow school employees to work from home, saying she believes her late sister contracted COVID-19 while working as an office clerk on campus.
Choi’s sister and colleague, Dayna Inouye, died Sept. 9, five days after learning she had tested positive for the disease, Choi wrote in testimony for this afternoon’s board meeting. Inouye, 49, had been quarantining at home after a colleague came to work sick, she said.
“I would like to speak on behalf of my sister, to have us, educators, faculty, and staff members, to consider teleworking for the safety of employees, students, parents, the community, everyone!” Choi wrote. “I know this will be difficult to prove, but there is no doubt in my mind that my sister caught Covid from work.”
Choi said her sister worked in the main office at the school, which is air-conditioned, and a coworker in the office came to work sick on Aug. 26. Two days later in the evening, Inouye began feeling body aches and a slight fever. She got tested for COVID-19 that weekend and stayed home but did not get her test her result until Sept. 4.
“My sister was very concerned about this pandemic and well prepared with her personal PPE items (e.g. 70% alcohol, clorox disinfectant wipes, 70% hand sanitizers, hand wipes, Lysol sprays, masks, shield), you name it, she had it,” Choi wrote. “She made every effort to wipe down after touching pens, phones, door knobs, desks, before eating, after eating, etc… “
“I am not here to place blame on anyone,” she wrote. “I am pleading for some changes to be certain there will NOT be any other Covid death statistics on school campus.”
Choi advocated that employees be able to telework and anyone with even slight symptoms to stay home. She also called for immediate mitigation and prevention measures before test results come in.
“I ask that there be teleworking, where there is less exposure,” she wrote. “Most teachers and staff can work from home, still teaching our students in the safety of our homes.”
“I need to shout out that employees need to, MUST stay home if feeling sick (even slight sniffles or mild fever). I understand some people may feel they cannot afford to take off work, or think, ‘nah, it’s just allergies,’ but please stay home! This virus is vicious and it attacks fast and hard!”
The Kalihi neighborhood has been especially hard hit by the coronavirus and Dole School has had several recent cases. The Department of Education announced Sept. 7 that two Dole staff members had tested positive in the previous week, and two others were potential cases. One has since been confirmed positive while documentation is still pending on the other.
Staff and families at Dole were notified as cases were identified at the school, employees were sent home to isolate or quarantine, and affected areas on campus were cleaned and disinfected, the department said.
Dr. Sarah Kemble, acting state epidemiologist, said today that the Dole cluster is still being investigated but that the Department of Health felt it did not require complete campus closure.
“We have determined that there was likely some transmission on campus,” Kemble said. “We were able to make decisions to allow safe closure of parts of the campus without closing the campus.”
“As long as we have cases occurring in the community, schools will continue to see positive cases,” she said. “And we will continue to work together to make those types of decisions about what is the appropriate mitigation.”
Choi’s letter was among 528 pages of testimony submitted to the board by parents, grandparents and school employees, both for and against continuing distance learning after fall break. They included teachers whose requests to work from home had been denied.