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Lanai residents told to shelter in place as coronavirus cases grow on rural island

  • Video courtesy Gov. David Ige

    Gov. David Ige, Lt. Gov. Josh Green and state Department of Health held a Thursday press conference to announce the state's tentative plan to distribute the coronavirus vaccine once it becomes available.

  • COURTESY PHOTO
                                Lanai City resident Mahea Ohashi with her six-year-old son, Jalin, who is battling leukemia amid a coronavirus outbreak on the island.

    COURTESY PHOTO

    Lanai City resident Mahea Ohashi with her six-year-old son, Jalin, who is battling leukemia amid a coronavirus outbreak on the island.

  • STAR-ADVERTISER / 2017
                                A car is seen on a stretch of road from the Lanai Airport to Lanai City.

    STAR-ADVERTISER / 2017

    A car is seen on a stretch of road from the Lanai Airport to Lanai City.

State officials are urging Lanai residents to shelter in place as the coronavirus rapidly spreads through the rural island, which started with a handful of infections earlier this week that spiraled into at least 38 cases.

“I am encouraging all Lanai residents to shelter-in-place. This is not a mandate, but a request to help stop the spread. Please don’t go out unless you absolutely need to,” Rep. Lynn DeCoite said in a news release, mirroring the sentiments of Sen. J. Kalani English, who both represent the island.

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino, who is scheduled to travel to the island Friday morning, said a shut down order for Lanai is “highly probable” and that residents should stay home. The Maui District Health Office is also advising Lanai residents to “go out only for essentials at this time.”

Fears of a coronavirus outbreak on the island with just one hospital has become a reality for Mahea Ohashi, whose six-year-old son, Jalin, is also battling leukemia.

The 26-year-old who lives in Lanai City has been worried ever since COVID-19 landed on Hawaii’s shores that the virus would eventually make its way to her isolated community. She had diligently kept her son, who is in his second year of chemotherapy treatments, away from large gatherings and tried to follow all the state’s safety precautions.

“Right now I’m kind of scared because … he does have a weak immune system. It wouldn’t be like any other normal six-year-old’s immune system,” she said. “I did have a small panic attack because he’s exposed daily and the fact that (now) there are positive cases and we don’t know who has it. It’s super scary for sure.”

On Tuesday, state health officials reported four cases of COVID-19 on Lanai — the first infections on the island since the pandemic began. Two days later, infections have grown 10 times higher.

The new cases include two coworkers who “attended a social gathering,” and others who are “possible household and social contacts,” according to the state Department of Health. One of the infected residents recently traveled to Oahu, though there is no “clear tie” to the other cases, the DOH said.

Victorino said that 800 PCR tests, 11,300 masks and five cases of gloves and sanitation products are on its way to Lanai residents and local health officials helping to contain the outbreak. Lt. Gov. Josh Green will also be sending “a few thousand” surgical masks, cloth masks, sanitation supplies and gloves to Lanai with help from the U.S. Coast Guard so crews can disinfect public facilities, including the Lanai Airport, Manele Harbor, the Lanai Senior Center and county offices.

“We are monitoring the situation on Lanai very closely and urge all our Lanai visitors and residents to continue wearing their masks, keeping physical distance from others and getting tested,” Victorino said in a news release. “I humbly ask for your prayers for all of our Lanai families as we overcome these challenges together.”

The county will host a virtual community meeting on Friday at 6 p.m. with the Hawaii National Guard, which will provide COVID-19 information to the community.

Mass testing will begin on Saturday at the Old Dole Administration Building in Lanai City from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. There are around 200 tests currently pending, DeCoite told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, adding that she’s heard the number of infections has actually grown to more than 40.

“It is spreading and it’s spreading fast. The community has asked us for a lockdown. It’s very disheartening when they ran like this for a long time with no cases,” she said. “It can be alarming because we don’t want to spread it with the counts going down (in Honolulu). They’re very vulnerable. You’re talking about multigenerational families living in one home, that’s making it much more worse.”

Hawaii reported three new coronavirus deaths on Oahu and 102 new infections statewide, bringing the totals since the start of the pandemic to 206 deaths and 14,335 cases. The three fatalities were all men, between ages 70 and 79 years old, on Oahu with underlying conditions.

There are 2,897 active infections statewide and 11,232 patients now considered recovered, or 78% of those infected.

“If we don’t shut down it’s going to get worse. I’m actually hoping they kick that into gear really quick,” Ohashi said. “We’re kind of just like sitting ducks waiting to see what the governor and mayor is going to decide.”

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