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COVID-19 Causes Closures, Cancellations

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

As COVID-19, also called coronavirus, has become a global pandemic and swept across the country in the last few weeks, Molokai has begun to see the direct impacts of precautionary measures from school closures and event cancellations to medical measures. Information is constantly changing and it should be noted that the details provided here are up to date as of press deadline on Sunday, March 15.

Despite widespread rumors last week, there are currently no known cases of COVID-19 on Molokai. Six cases have been confirmed in the state, one of which is a visitor on Maui.

One person from Molokai was tested last week.

“The person works in the healthcare field and felt they should be tested even though this person did not have any symptoms,” said Rep. Lynn DeCoite last week. “Out of an abundance of caution, Hawaii Department of Health decided to test this individual. The results came back negative…. Also the DOH Director wanted to show respect to the Molokai community by authorizing the test to put concerns at ease.”

Officials advise the public not to panic but are taking many precautionary measures across the state to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The Department of Education announced Sunday that spring break will be extended an extra week, meaning public and charter schools will be closed until March 30, with further evaluation possible. School-related travel to the mainland and international locations has been cancelled through the end of the school year. School sporting events have been cancelled until further notice.

Many public meetings and events on Molokai have also been cancelled.

All County of Maui fields, pools, gyms and other facilities and public restrooms, including Mitchell Pauole Center, will be closed for 30 days starting Saturday, March 14. County offices remain open as of now. If you had a permit from Dept. of Parks and Recreation for an event at a county facility or park during this time, contact the district Parks office for a refund or rescheduled permit.

Tours in Kalaupapa have been temporarily suspended by the DOH until April 11 to “protect the vulnerable population of patients.” Kalaupapa employees can continue to commute as necessary, and the DOH says it will continue to assess the situation to determine when the visitor suspension can be lifted.

Mayor Michael Victorino will be holding an update on COVID-19 for Molokai residents, along with Dr. Lorrin Pang, on Wednesday, March 18 at 2 p.m. via live stream, with viewing details not yet announced as of Sunday. He originally planned to visit Molokai for an in-person meeting, but later announced cancellation in favor of virtual information sharing.

Officials are advising “social distancing” to prevent the spread of the virus, avoiding large gatherings as well as unnecessary travel, and greeting friends and family with shakas instead of hugs and kisses.

Young Brothers announced it has no plans to cancel regular barge sailings to Molokai.

What is COVID-19?
Coronavirus 2019 outbreak was first reported in China. There are many types of coronavirus with varying symptoms but COVID-19 is a new disease that had not previously been seen in humans, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). It is spread person-to-person through respiratory droplets when someone who’s infected coughs or sneezes in close proximity (within about 6 feet). Someone who is actively sick with COVID-19 can spread the illness to others, which is why isolation is recommended. Older adults and those with chronic medical conditions heart disease, lung disease and diabetes are at the highest risk. There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19.

What are coronavirus symptoms?
Reported illnesses have ranged from mild to severe and usually include fever, cough and shortness of breath that may appear two to 14 days after exposure. Though similar to flu symptoms, COVID-19 has a higher death rate in patients than those diagnosed with the seasonal flu.

What should you do if you have symptoms?
Molokai General Hospital and clinic have set up special testing protocol for those with flu-like symptoms.

“To keep any potential virus out of our hospital, beginning March 14, we will be asking anyone with cough, fever and sore throat to stay out of the hospital or clinic,” stated a Hospital news release. “When you arrive at the hospital or clinic, park your car and stay there. Call 553-3141 or 553-3143 for the ER, or 553-3121 for the clinic. A nurse will go out to your car and assess your symptoms at that time. We may take a swab looking for flu right there or you may be brought into the hospital. If we swab you in your car, we will tell you to go home and await a call from us.”

Dr. William Thomas of the hospital’s Outpatient Clinic said not everyone will meet the strict criteria for screening for COVID-19. Health officials are changing those criteria constantly and Molokai patients will be advised further when they arrive for testing.

“Testing results can take anywhere from two to five days, but we have seen that changing as well,” he said. “The overall nature of this situation is that things may change daily or hourly and we are staying on top of those changes.”

Health care officials are advising using the strict criteria for testing possible COVID-19 cases to avoid unnecessarily overloading already-overwhelmed labs.

“We want to assure you that we are able to provide testing to those needing testing and care to those who need care,” stated the Molokai General Hospital release. “We have adequate supplies and medicines to handle patients presenting to our clinic or emergency department.”

Additionally, hospital officials clarified that the facility has not been on lockdown, nor was anyone being held in isolation. A yellow emergency test was set up last Thursday and may be used to offer additional screening areas if needed.

To maintain the health of patients and providers, the hospital announced it will also be limiting the number of visitors to two at a time, per patient. No children under 12 will be allowed to visit unless they are being treated as patients.

What can you do to prevent virus spread?
The CDC says the most effective way to protect yourself is to avoid close contact with someone who’s sick. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If you can’t wash with soap and water, use hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Wear a facemask if you are sick to protect others but you don’t need to wear a mask to protect yourself unless you’re caring for someone who’s sick, according to the CDC.

Clean and disinfect frequently-used surfaces like doorknobs, tables, light switches, keyboards, phones and faucets daily. Recommended disinfectants include bleach solution, cleaners with at least 70 percent alcohol or other EPA-registered household disinfectants.

Coronavirus can live on surfaces for two to three days, scientists say.

For more information on COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website cdc.gov, the state Dept. of Health website at health.hawaii.gov and for Molokai specific info, check The Molokai Dispatch’s Facebook page, which will be updated as we receive info.

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