The Hawaii Department of Health’s cluster report this week focuses on the spread of the coronavirus among food service workers in social gatherings outside of work.
In early June, officials investigated a cluster of 14 COVID-19 cases among food service workers associated with five different social events.
The majority of cases, 12, were food service workers from three different restaurants. Eleven had attended at least one of the social events, with some overlap.
Although the gatherings were small — involving just two to five persons at a time — no one wore masks or socially distanced, officials said. Together, they went to a bar, ate at a restaurant, watched a movie at a theater and gathered at a private residence.
These 11 employees then spread the coronavirus to three other employees who never attended any of the social gatherings. The three employees were exposed while working in the kitchen of one of the restaurants.
In mid-June, officials also investigated a cluster of four cases among food service workers that socialized outside of work — also without masks or proper distancing.
Initially, three out of seven that attended a weekend outdoor gathering followed by dinner were diagnosed with the coronavirus. They in turn spread the coronavirus to another employee who did not socialize with them over the weekend through workplace exposure.
None were vaccinated against COVID-19.
In March, as well, health officials investigated a cluster of five coronavirus cases among unvaccinated restaurant workers that shared an e-cigarette in a car during a work break.
Health officials said an enclosed kitchen with poor ventilation, and where 6 feet of distance cannot be maintained increased the risk for COVID-19 transmission.
CDC recommends that unvaccinated employees take staggered work breaks and that masks and social distancing of 6 feet or more be required at the workplace, along with the cleaning of spaces between use. Group gatherings should be avoided if proper distancing is not possible.
Also, employers should encourage their employees to get vaccinated and consider offering incentives to do so to prevent the spread of COVID-19, officials said. Those who are fully vaccinated do not have to quarantine after exposure to COVID-19 if they are asymptomatic, minimizing workplace disruptions.
The report, published Thursday, reflects clusters under investigation for the past two weeks. The report will only be published once every two weeks after this one, DOH said, to devote more time to the vaccination effort.
“The Cluster Reports have shown vaccinations are the most effective tool in preventing COVID-19 infection, hospitalizations, and deaths,” said DOH in a statement. “Mask wearing, physical distancing, and avoiding large crowds, particularly in indoor settings, are also effective mitigation tools.”
Health officials are currently investigating eight clusters across all four counties:
>> On Oahu, officials are investigating a cluster from a place of worship that resulted in 20 cases, in addition to a cluster from a social gathering that resulted in 10 cases.
>> On Maui County, officials are investigating a cluster from an educational setting that resulted in six cases, and a cluster from a place of worship that resulted in eight cases.
>> On Hawaii County, officials continue to investigate a cluster from a correctional facility that resulted in 270 cases and another cluster in the “other” category resulting in five cases. The “other’ category includes offices, retail establishments, and first responders.
>> On Kauai County, officials are investigating a cluster at a place of worship resulting in 11 cases and a cluster at a shelter resulting in four cases.