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Maui County is Hawaii’s new COVID-19 infection hot spot

  • BRYAN BERKOWITZ / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER
                                Nurses Tihani Van Boekhout and Dinnah Andres provide PPE to staff entering the COVID ward Maui Memorial Hospital on May 18.

    BRYAN BERKOWITZ / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER

    Nurses Tihani Van Boekhout and Dinnah Andres provide PPE to staff entering the COVID ward Maui Memorial Hospital on May 18.

Maui County has become the new COVID-19 hot spot in Hawaii, sporting the state’s largest seven-day positivity rate Wednesday and posting the largest number of daily cases for the second time in a week.

“We’re very disappointed to see more double-digit case numbers in our new daily case count,” Sandy Baz, managing director of Maui County, said Wednesday.

But the spike could well be explained by the way the Maui County health office handles new infections, officials said.

Maui County health specialist Spencer Headley said on Monday that the spike in cases is a result of “direct household transmission and not a widespread uptick from across the county,” and Baz reiterated the point at a news conference Wednesday.

Unlike other jurisdictions, health officials in Maui County generally test all the members of a household rather than just quarantine them, a practice that can lead to higher case counts, Baz said.

“You’re going to have a higher positivity rate because we’re testing larger groups,” he said.

Wednesday’s statewide infection cases on Maui reached 24, while Oahu counted only 16. There were two cases on the Big Island, one on Kauai and seven residents diagnosed outside of Hawaii.

Monday’s COVID-19 case count on Maui was 28, while Oahu posted 21 cases. The Big Island had two cases, and Kauai had one.

Baz did add that seven of the cases in Wednesday’s total were considered “probable cases and not yet confirmed.” He said he didn’t understand why they were included in the count.

Maui County has averaged nearly 20 cases a day over the past week, and the county’s seven-day positivity rate is now 4.33%, compared with the state’s overall seven-day positivity rate of 1.2%.

The county also lags in vaccinations at 8% — well below other counties.

In a statement Wednesday, Maui County spokesman Brian Perry said Maui Mayor Michael Victorino is “very concerned” about the increase in coronavirus cases, and he continues to monitor developments closely with the state Department of Health.

“While Mayor Victorino assesses his options, he continues to urge residents to follow Maui County Public Health Emergency Rules that require wearing face masks in public, physical distancing and no social gatherings of more than five people,” Perry said.

Maui County was the state’s leader in per capita infections at the beginning of the pandemic a year ago, thanks in part to an early outbreak at Maui Memorial Medical Center. But Oahu soon took the infection lead and maintained its top spot until this week.

Maui County’s daily case count hit a peak of 56 in early January, but the numbers, like those for the rest of the state, generally have been coming down.

”We’re still looking generally good,” Headley said Monday. “But it’s still not time to let our guard down.”

Correction: Maui had the state’s largest seven-day positivity rate and the largest number of daily coronavirus cases on Wednesday. Also, Maui County managing director Sandy Baz spoke on Wednesday about the virus count. An earlier version of this story had an incorrect day.

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