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Efforts Continue to Keep Molokai Virus-Free

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

“It’s like a movie that we’re all in,” described resident and Misaki’s Grocery owner Kevin Misaki of the current coronavirus pandemic. “As long as it’s not someone you know, it’s OK. But as soon as it’s your neighbor, your family, people [on Molokai] will start panick-ing.”

So far as of Sunday, Molokai continues to have no confirmed COVID-19 cases, as the rest of the state rose to 175 cases out of nearly 8,000 tests conducted. Nationwide, the U.S. case count has climbed to about 140,000 as of Sunday — the most of any country in the world — of which about 2,500 patients have died.

“We’re testing about one to two people a day,” said Janice Kalanihuia, administrator at Molokai General Hospital. “We haven’t seen people with raging fever or symptoms that would need hospitalization.”

Last Wednesday, the County of Maui’s stay at home rules went into effect, and officials and Molokai leaders are asking the community to take the threat seriously.

“Molokai is a very special place. To preserve the safely and well-being of our tight-knit community, all of us need to be committed to ‘flattening the curve’ by social distancing and staying home as much as possible,” said Kalanihuia. “Let’s travel only when abso-lutely necessary — to buy food or to report to essential work situations — and encour-age visitors to hold off on flying to our beautiful island until it is safe for them to visit again. Our actions now will determine how hard Molokai will be hit with this virus. We are all in this together.”

State and county officials are urging a quarantine on all inter-island travel in attempt to further block the spread of COVID-19, particularly to Molokai and Lanai.

“We’re discussing how they can shut them,” said Mayor Michael Victorino of the two is-lands’ airports. “I would also like to close down Maui. Can I logistically do that? Do I have the powers to close our airport? No.”

But he said he is working with state officials toward that goal.

Last week, the state Department of Health announced the first COVID-19-related death, only to retract the statement days later.

“Internal communication of a COVID-19 test at the Dept. of Health resulted in a report being misread and initiated a retest of samples today from an Oahu adult, who died on March 20,” read a March 24 DOH statement. DOH Director Dr. Bruce Anderson said, “Our focus was to get information out in a timely manner. This is an unprecedented situa-tion and we’re still developing best practices.”

As of last Friday, state officials reported the number of passengers flying into Hawaii continued to drop with 1,221 arriving that day at state airports on the second day of Ha-waii’s 14-day mandatory self-quarantine for all incoming passengers. Officials said of that number, only 180 were visitors, while the majority were either returning residents or airline crew members.

Last week, the Department of Education announced extended school closures through April 30. During this time, the DOE “will be sending out information about enrichment opportunities, including online resources and printed material resources such as instruc-tional packets. Parents and guardians are encouraged to look out for information from their child’s school and teachers,” stated a DOE release.

Additionally, the DOE is seeking approval from the Board of Education to modify high school graduation and commencement requirements for the class of 2020. It seeks “flex-ibility in awarding a diploma or certificate to graduating seniors, based on approval from individual school administrations.”

Meanwhile, residents are adapting to the County’s stay at home order for all non-essential business.

Molokai dentist and member of the Hawaii COVID-19 Healthcare Providers Taskforce urges her fellow community members to take it seriously. She said she’s noticed social encounters have become “awkward” as people adjust to new norms of social distancing.

“It’s a bit awkward, because we stop to say hi but not to talk, not to interact,” she said of her brief visits to grocery store. “We don’t even want to talk because we don’t want to be in the way.”

The federal government approved the largest emergency stimulus package in U.S. his-tory to help bolster the economy as millions of Americans file unemployment claims and businesses are forced to close. Most taxpaying individuals will see some benefits, and it also promises to offer assistance to small businesses. Check next week’s Molokai Dis-patch as we delve deeper into stimulus package benefits and opportunities.

On the medical front, Molokai General Hospital is ramping up to handle a possible influx of patients and testing demands in the coming weeks. Hospital leadership announced last week it began using an external triage system where patients are greeted and screened outside to expedite care.

“The management team and staff at Molokai General Hospital have plans in place to address an influx of patients, both those with mild or more serious symptoms of the COVID-19 virus,” said Kalanihuia. “Please know we are here and ready to care for you…. The situation changes daily — that is not an exaggeration — and we ask for your support as we do all we can to stay prepared to care for you.”

While the hospital has enough supplies to meet current demands, Kalanihuia put out a call for donations of personal protective equipment like goggles, face shields, masks and gowns “in an effort to build on existing supplies.”

While community leaders hope Molokai will remain virus-free, many agree it’s likely just a matter of time before it spreads to the island. Until then, everyone is taking it one day at a time.

“We’re reading this book page by page every day and hopefully it has a happy ending,” said Misaki.

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