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Most Kona students with coronavirus have recovered

A Christian college in Kailua-­Kona said more than half of its 52 COVID-19-infected students, faculty and staff are now recovered.

The University of the Nations Kona reported that 32 people have been released from isolation, while 20 active cases are still in quarantine.

At the request of Big Island Mayor Harry Kim, the school conducted mass testing last week of 955 people and found nine cases of the virus, spokesman Johnny Gillespie told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Separate from the mass testing program, 43 people already in isolation tested positive and were determined to have contracted the new coronavirus in the community, he said. The university has roughly 600 students, faculty and staff and their families living on campus and about 400 in the community.

The nonaccredited University of the Nations Kona was established by Youth with a Mission in 1977 when it was named Pacific and Asia Christian University. The name was changed in 1989 to University of the Nations.

The first four cases were detected Sept. 24 among the school’s mostly mainland students who were tested upon arrival in the islands “as they came off the plane essentially.” The university used rapid tests followed by molecular PCR tests to confirm the diagnoses.

At the same time, the University of the Nations was ministering in one of the projects where a person had contracted the virus and infected several staff members, Gillespie said, adding that by the time the source of infection was revealed through contact tracing, “two or three staff had exposed probably 20 or 30 people.”

The school’s medical team worked with the state Department of Health on “really swift contact tracing” to immediately isolate and quarantine those exposed, Gillespie said, adding that none of those infected had major symptoms or had to be hospitalized.

“It’s been a really amazing team effort, and as a result, we’re really confident there’s been very little or no risk to the wider community,” he said. “We have a high degree of confidence that the spread has been contained. We’re seeing our case numbers go down as people here in isolation go down and get healthy.”

Typically, the university trains about 1,500 students per year, many of them from other countries. But this year most of the students are from the mainland due to COVID-19 restrictions and concerns.

Jason Dela Cruz, a public health preparedness planner with the Hawaii District Health Office, said the school will undergo additional testing this week.

“Because of the focus on testing, we’re probably going to find more; then we got to make sure we’re associating what could be a completely different cluster from another cluster,” he said. “As long as they have repeated testing going on, that would probably be a good indicator of where we are.”

Hawaii reported 42 new coronavirus infections statewide Monday, bringing the number of cases since the start of the pandemic to 13,514. For the first time in two weeks, no new deaths were reported. The Health Department’s official statewide death toll remains 169; however, more than 20 recently reported coronavirus deaths on the Big Island have yet to be included in the count.

A DOH spokeswoman said the state has adjusted the reporting of laboratory tests to reflect the number of tests performed instead of the number of individuals tested in the daily count to “provide a more accurate calculation of the percent positive of a 7-day average.”

Kona Community Hospital reported Monday a coronavirus death on Oct. 5 and six COVID-19 hospitalized patients, half of whom are on ventilators.

Hilo Medical Center said that the Big Island’s coronavirus death toll is now 37: 27 from the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home, three from the Life Care Center in Hilo and seven from the greater community.

There are 2,564 active infections statewide and 10,781 patients now considered recovered, or about 80% of those infected.

The U.S. coronavirus death toll has surpassed 215,000.

“The Hilo veterans home had so many deaths. The risk is not as great for young people, but the major risk is for the older people in our community and we want to do our best to safeguard everybody,” Gillespie said. “Contact tracing and quarantine and isolation coupled with good testing really does work to stop the spread of the virus. That does keep the rest of the community safe and allow the rest of the community to be able to go about daily life.”

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