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Malama Meals Shut Down, Interisland Travel Considered

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

Hundreds of families on Molokai benefitted from Malama Meals, a program that delivered more than 1000 precooked home-style dinners to Molokai residents three times a week, free of charge. The Oahu-based program was shut down last week by the state Dept. of Health (DOH) for violations, however.

“The operation had multiple food safety issues as it prepared and packaged hot meals on Oahu and shipped them to the neighbor islands without proper temperature controls,” said Peter Oshiro, chief of the DOH Food Safety Branch. “Without proper controls, the risk of an outbreak of food illness is high and could have a devastating impact especially on those who are elderly and have underlying conditions.”

The DOH conducted an inspection of the food operation on May 15, in response to a complaint. Inspectors observed numerous violations indicating the operator did not have active managerial control over food being produced, according to a DOH release.

“Although we appreciate the work being done by Malama Meals and others involved in providing meals for distribution on Oahu, Kauai and Molokai during these difficult times, we also need to be sure that health and safety guidelines related to food safety are strictly followed,” said Bruce Anderson, Director of the Department of Health. “Shipping prepared foods and distributing them to sometimes remote communities on the neighbor islands in a timely manner poses unique challenges. The last thing anyone needs is a widespread outbreak of food poisoning on top of concerns about COVID-19.”

The program is suspended until further notice.

Last week, Gov. David Ige announced the state has been considering lifting the 14-day quarantine for interisland travel.

”Health measures are pointing in the right direction to make this move..with infection levels appearing to be under control across the state,” he said, which is important to avoid high level of cases on one island spreading to other islands as residents begin to travel, though it’s likely to see some surge following the decision, he said.

Key issues under discussion with the counties and airlines include screening, testing, contact tracing and physical distancing. Lt. Gov. Josh Green agreed that the state’s healthcare capacity is in good shape to support the resumption of interisland travel. Across Hawaii, 39 percent of intensive care unit beds occupied, 51 percent of total hospital beds in use, and only nine percent of the available ventilators in use.

Gov. Ige urged everyone to continue maintaining social distancing, washing hands, wearing masks, avoiding large gatherings and staying home when sick.

DOH Director Dr. Bruce Anderson said certain conditions will need to be met to lift interisland travel restrictions. These include COVID-19 cases remaining low and the capacity to investigate and quickly respond to new cases; accurate and complete passenger declaration forms are submitted; departure thermal screenings; and passengers with elevated temperatures not being allowed to board.

Anderson added that it is critically important to maintain the 14-day quarantine for mainland visitors. He said once the procedures are finalized and implemented, lifting the 14-day quarantine for interisland travel will provide a good test to determine the risks and concerns with opening up travel from domestic and international destinations.

Last week, Gov. Ige also released a long-awaited Roadmap to Recovery and Resilience, which outlines the steps the state will take to fully reopen. The state is transitioning from the “Safer at Home” phase to the “Acting with Care” phase.

“In this phase we start to reconnect Hawaii’s local activities by gradually reopening medium-risk businesses and activities; followed by high-risk businesses and activities,” said Ige. “The move from the ‘Stabilization’ phase (which included Stay-at-Home) to ‘Safer at Home’ was made possible by the flattening of the COVID-19 infection curve due to good social-distancing practices, and other measures taken by the community to help protect our most vulnerable populations from coronavirus.”

Phase Three, known as “Long-term Recovery,” is where Hawaii’s economy is renewed and rebuilt through planning and policy discussions which will incorporate transitional workforce modernization opportunities, support economic diversification initiatives, target the development of emerging industries, and advance long-term resiliency, according to Ige.

The fourth and final phase is “Resiliency.” Under the impact level strategy, counties can chose to relax stricter local orders at their own pace in coordination with the state. A 14-day-long observation period between decision points allows time to assess conditions before moving to the next impact level.

“Together, we will emerge stronger and more resilient as a result of learning from and overcoming this challenge,” said Ige.

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