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Hawaii health officials warn public about growing COVID-19 cluster linked to Kauai church

                                Hawaii Department of Health State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble
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Hawaii Department of Health State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble

A COVID-19 cluster on Kauai involving at least 36 cases has been traced to a church in Nawiliwili.

The state Department of Health reported today that the cluster associated with King’s Chapel will likely grow, after increasing from 16 known cases Monday.

“We only identified the cluster a week ago and cases are still trickling in, so … we expect it to keep growing,” Dr. Janet Berreman, district health officer for the Kauai District Health Office, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

The ages of those infected range from 2 to over 60, DOH said. Four of the cases involved people who had contact with recently infected churchgoers.

The size of the cluster — one of the largest on Kauai to date — prompted DOH to disclose the situation to the public. Berreman noted the church congregation is “fairly large.”

“DOH discloses cluster locations when there is an imminent risk to public health. Based on the findings of our investigation, we believe disclosure is warranted to prevent further transmission of the disease,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said in a news release.

In an email response to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, church officials said: “We do not have any comment at this time. We are preparing for services at all of our locations to include Kauai.”

The focus of the DOH investigation is on King’s Chapel’s recurring in-person activities. The church streams its services online, but Berreman said it also offers regular in-person services and youth activities.

The cases date as far back as Halloween, and DOH is advising anyone who recently attended any event at King’s Chapel to get tested for the coronavirus.

On Halloween, the church held a drive-thru “Trunk or Treat” event that health officials said may have contributed to the spread of COVID-19 infections.

“Anyone who attended this event — especially anyone who was unmasked or who interacted for 15 minutes or more with others — should get tested,” the news release said.

DOH has advised congregants to participate in the virtual services until the COVID-19 cluster is contained.

The chapel is part of the King’s Cathedral and Chapels group, which was linked in March to a cluster of at least 55 COVID-19 cases at its Maui location. At the time, the group had rejected the state’s advice to halt in-person services while the coronavirus cluster was active.

Kauai has experienced an alarming rise in COVID-19 cases, with the Health Department noting the county’s case counts are now the highest per capita in the state. The island’s seven-day average case count is 23, while its average daily case count in 2021 is about 8.6 cases.

Kauai’s seven-day average testing positivity rate is 4.2% compared with 1.7% for the state.

DOH reported a total of 157 new coronavirus cases on the island this week alone.

Berreman said that most of Kauai’s recent cases have been the result of community transmission rather than travel-based infections. She also said break­through cases among vaccinated individuals played a marginal role in the case counts.

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