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Statewide COVID-19 metrics improving, Hawaii officials say

                                On Sunday, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, in response to a report of the sanitary conditions and procedures at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home on the Big Island, said, “Avalon must take immediate action to … ensure the safety of the veterans and staff.” To date, 24 people from the home have died of COVID-19.


    On Sunday, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, in response to a report of the sanitary conditions and procedures at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home on the Big Island, said, “Avalon must take immediate action to … ensure the safety of the veterans and staff.” To date, 24 people from the home have died of COVID-19.

State Department of Health officials Sunday reported 77 new COVID-19 infections which brought the statewide count to 11,403 cases since the pandemic began and continued a recent trend of improving metrics.

On Sunday, Hawaii’s effective reproduction rate for the virus had dropped to 0.78, meaning people who test positive for coronavirus in the state will infect an average of 0.78 other people.

A rate above 1 means the virus will spread quickly. A rate below 1 means the virus will eventually stop spreading.

Hawaii’s reproduction rate Sunday was the best in the nation, outside of Texas. In early August, Hawaii’s effective reproduction rate was the nation’s worst.

Dr. Mark Mugiishi, HMSA president and CEO, said in a statement on, “We know the shut-down is difficult but overall the data shows it’s working. We are trending very well. Keep up the good work, Hawaii and let’s watch our data improve together.”

The seven-day average of cases for the state moved Sunday to 101.3, down from a peak of 255.7 on Aug. 29.

Officials counted 1,678 new tests in Sunday’s tally, with today’s 77 positive results representing 4.6% of the total tested.

As of Sunday, 6,524 infections are considered active cases statewide, with 4,759 patients, or about 40% of those infected, now classified by health officials as “released from isolation.” The category counts those infected people who have met the criteria for being released from isolation. Officials reported 137 new release cases Sunday.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who tested positive for the new coronavirus, said Sunday that there are now 185 COVID-19 patients in Hawaii hospitals, with 51 of them in intensive care units and 40 on ventilators. He said that 158, or 65%, of the state’s 244 ICU beds, and 94, or 20%, of Hawaii’s 459 ventilators are in use, by both coronavirus and nonvirus patients.

On Sunday, coronavirus deaths remained at 120. However, Hawaii County officials said that the Hilo Medical Center recorded two more coronavirus-related deaths of Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home residents, bringing the number of fatalities on the Big Island to 26, all but two of them at the Hilo nursing home.

State health officials have not verified the cause of death for all the fatalities reported by Hawaii County. The state Health Department’s official death toll includes 95 on Oahu, nine on Maui and 15 on Hawaii island, while one was a Kauai resident who died on the mainland. The statewide death toll will rise by 10 if the recent Big Island deaths are confirmed as COVID-19-related.

Follow-up testing is slated to continue today at the veterans home, where 70 nursing home residents and 32 employees have tested positive for the virus, according to Avalon Healthcare, the veterans home’s managing company. The veterans home had 89 residents before the pandemic began.

A team of health care professionals from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has issued a detailed and sometimes scathing assessment of the sanitary conditions and procedures at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home.

In response to the report, U.S. Sen Brian Schatz issued a statement Sunday, saying, “This report makes clear that Avalon did not take the steps necessary to protect its residents and staff. We have known all along that nursing homes and their residents were particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, so it is infuriating to see that basic infection control practices were not in place months after the pandemic began. Avalon must take immediate action to address the recommendations of this report to ensure the safety of the veterans and staff at the State Veterans Home.”

Avalon spokeswoman Allison Griffiths said in an emailed response that the caregivers at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home have been implementing all guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Serv­ices and the state health agency, including all guidance on infection prevention and control, since the pandemic’s beginning.

“The report from the Department of Veterans Affairs provides useful guidance that we are now rapidly instituting, but that has not been provided to us prior to this report,” Griffiths said. “We will continue to work closely with the VA as we continue to fight this historic pandemic.”

Meanwhile, a cluster of cases in state Department of Public Safety facilities is improving. DOH confirmed Sunday that a newly admitted inmate at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center tested positive for COVID-19, but said that the incident was controlled quickly.

The Department of Public Safety was notified Saturday that the new inmate came into contact with someone prior to entry who was positive for COVID-19. The inmate was medically isolated while PSD awaited the results, which triggered the start of DOH contact tracing.

“The Hawaii Community Correctional Center immediately enacted their pandemic protocol to contain this one case. All of the credit goes to the HCCC security and medical staff who have worked very hard to safeguard the staff and inmates and keep the virus from spreading within the facility,” Maria Cook, deputy director for administration/acting director, said in a statement.

PSD also said that “efforts to contain the outbreak at the Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC) are working.”

Only three out of 33 of the most recent tests that PSD received from DOH-led mass testing at the facility were reported as positive Sunday. Only one staff test result out of 54 tests was positive.

So far, PSD said, 290 inmates have recovered, and there are currently not any hospitalized inmates.

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