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Molokai COVID Cluster Continues to Grow

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

A cluster of more than a dozen COVID-19 cases on Molokai surfaced last week. The series of positive cases originated from Maui construction contractors who were working in a non-clinical, closed area of Molokai General Hospital and tested positive after their arrival, while working alongside Molokai workers.

“On Tuesday afternoon, MGH was notified that one of the contractors who had been on Molokai the previous week tested positive for COVID-19 on Maui,” said MGH President Janice Kalanihuia in a statement last Friday. “We immediately shut down the job and tested the12 people who were on-site at that time. Four of them tested positive and all were immediately sent to their housing here on Molokai to quarantine.”

Kalanihuia confirmed the area of the hospital where they were working was separated and sealed off from patients and hospital staff. The air handling system was disconnected and there was no air exchange between the work area and any parts of the hospital. No hospital staff have tested positive as of press deadline Sunday.

However, Rep. Lynn DeCoite confirmed “the virus has now infected family members and community members.” None of those who have tested positive were vaccinated, she said, as of last Friday.

As of Sunday, May 16, the Dept. of Health reported nine new Molokai cases last week. The first is logged on Tuesday, May 11 with a second on Wednesday, followed by four on Thursday and three on Friday, May 14. On Friday, a DOH spokesperson confirmed 12 cases associated with the construction cluster on Molokai, but it is not clear whether the DOH subsequently counted the Maui residents who tested positive as cases on Molokai or on Maui.

“I know we are all concerned about these recent cases on Molokai. I am working to ensure that everyone who needs or wants to get tested can get tested so we can stop this outbreak in its tracks,” said DeCoite “I encourage everyone to try to stay clam and get your information from reputable sources and not the coconut wireless.”

Approximately 15 more people were tested on May 14, with results pending, DeCoite said Friday. MGH held a free mass COVID-19 testing event on Tuesday, May 18.

“This is a reminder for all of us that we still need to be vigilant. We need to keep wearing masks and social distancing,” DeCoite said. “I do encourage those that have not been vaccinated to do so. The vaccine doesn’t just protect you; it does help protect those around you.”

DeCoite also reminded the community to show aloha, along with strict precautionary measures.

“No matter who ‘brought’ it here, no matter who is infected now, the one thing we need to keep doing is to keep our masks on and socially distance when outside your immediate family or with people whose vaccination status is not certain,” echoed Kalanihuia.

The hospital said 83 percent of its workforce has been vaccinated.

“Molokai General Hospital has spent the last 14 months doing all we can to keep our staff and all of you safe,” said Kalanihuia. “The well-being of our community is paramount. It is heartbreaking that this happened as we are beginning to see things open up a little. Although Molokai General Hospital didn’t cause this, we will be active partners with the state Department of Health in addressing it, and restoring the health and safety of our island.”

Last Wednesday, Hiro’s Ohana Grill announced temporary closure for two days after an employee tested positive. On Friday, the restaurant extended its closure until further notice after two more employees tested positive.

“As of yesterday, we were notified that we have two more employees that tested positive for COVID-19 for a total of three all together,” the business posted on social media Friday. “We are cooperating closely with the Department of Health and following the CDC guidelines for situations like this.”

It’s not clear at this time if those cases are linked to the MGH construction cluster.

Community members are organizing donations for families in quarantine.

Kaunakakai School was also affected by a positive case in a student, who was last in school on May 11, the school wrote in a letter to families. DeCoite told KHON2 that the student was a family member of one of the affected construction workers.

As for Molokai High School’s graduation ceremony scheduled this Saturday at 4 p.m., MHS Principal Katina Soares said there will be no changes to plans. The ceremony will be held on the high school football field and closed to the public, with only two attendees per graduate permitted. Community and extended family and friends can view the celebration through live stream on Akaku Molokai’s Facebook page.

“I do not plan on canceling graduation due to the recent rise in COVID-19 cases on Molokai,” said Soares last Saturday. “These students have lost out on so much already; many hands have worked diligently to provide this more than deserved ceremony for our Class of 2021 graduates. I cannot let COVID-19 take another opportunity away from them.”

She said the ceremony was already designed with strict Dept. of Education and CDC safety protocols in place including mask requirements, outdoor location, limited attendance and access, 6-foot or more distancing between non-household members, sanitation stations and participants required to complete an online DOE wellness check before attending.

“We appreciate everyoneʻs cooperation to help the Class of 2021 have a smooth, safe ceremony for our graduates by practicing COVID safety protocols and keeping the roads and area surrounding Molokai High School clear from 1 to 6 p.m. on Saturday,” said Soares.

Last week, the Pfizer vaccine was given expanded emergency use authorization to include people age 12 and older by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The CDC now recommends 12 to 15-year-olds receive the two-dose vaccine in addition to those over the age of 16, for whom the vaccine had previously been approved.

Molokai General Hospital is partnering with the DOE to offer vaccines to all students and their families members aged 12 and over on May 24 at the Molokai High School Gym from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Pre-registration forms and inquiries can be made at any public school or by calling Molokai High School at 567-7100. Second doses will be administered at MGH on June 14.

In anticipation of fully reopening in-person learning next school year, we also have a Pfizer Vaccine administration for anyone 12+ on May 24th at the Molokai High School Gym from 10am-1pm. Pre-registration forms and inquiries can be made at any public school or by calling Molokai High School at 567-7100.

COVID-19 symptoms include fever, loss of the sense of taste or smell, cough, shortness of breath or nausea/vomiting. Health officials urge residents to stay home if experiencing any of these symptoms. The hospital invites members of the community wishing to be tested for COVID because they feel they may have been exposed to do so at MGH or call the Queen’s COVID Infoline at 808-691-2619 with any questions.

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