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Molokai Has First Two COVID-19 Cases

The Molokai community faced the news of its first two confirmed COVID-19 cases last week. Both are Friendly Market Center employees; the first of whom, confirmed as positive on Thursday, was transported to Oahu for treatment.

After the first case was confirmed, Mayor Michael Victorino, Sen. Kalani English, and Rep. Lynn DeCoite worked with the market’s owners to facilitate testing for all 51 FMC employees at Molokai General Hospital on Friday. The second positive test came out of that round of testing.

“As a precaution, we’ve decided to have all employees [regardless of their test results] remain in self-quarantine,” said Kit Okimoto, co-owner and chief financial officer for Friendly Market.

The store will remain closed until April 20.

“We realize the impact this decision has on the island of Molokai, but we feel it is essential to help control the spread of COVID-19,” said Okimoto. “We will support the Molokai community and other grocers in every way possible. We’ve been working closely with Mayor Victorino, Sen. English, and Rep. DeCoite and thank them for their support.”

The first employee traveled to Las Vegas and flew back to Molokai on March 17, working March 18-20 with no symptoms, said Okimoto. That was before the Governor’s mandatory 14-day self-quarantine policy went into effect on March 26 for residents and visitors traveling from out of state.

“We decided to be proactive and ask him to self-quarantine,” said Okimoto. The employee got tested when he started experiencing symptoms.

Following the first positive test, screening for all employees was top priority.

“By facilitating immediate testing on island and getting the results processed on Oahu the next day, we were able to identify a second positive case at the store and take steps to reduce further spread,” said Sen. English.

Health officials warn that a negative test result doesn’t mean you won’t get symptoms later, however, and even those showing no symptoms can still carry and spread COVID-19.

Despite one of the island’s largest grocery stores being closed, officials say Young Brothers barge will continue to come and the flow of supplies to Molokai will continue.

”I want the residents of Molokai to know that we will make sure that services and goods will continue to arrive to the island,” said Mayor Victorino. “My primary focus is to maintain essential supplies for Molokai and ensure their health and safety.”

It was a wake up call for Molokai residents, some of whom not have been taking the COVID-19 threat seriously.

“Now, more than ever it is important that we all comply with the County and State Stay at Home Orders,” said Rep. DeCoite in a statement Saturday night. ”We know this is in the Molokai community. The way we kokua one another is to stay at home! It is all of our responsibility to stop the spread by staying home! I know we are all scared and want information. For now, stay at home. Only send one person to get groceries and supplies for your household. Molokai, we are strong, we are resilient and right now is our chance to show the rest of the state how we can come together by complying with all of the county and state recommendations to protect everyone in our community!”

When he learned of the first positive result of a fellow FMC employee, Greig Len Wai shared on The Molokai Dispatch Facebook page some of the reactions he experienced.

“Scared because the person affected was a fellow worker and the thought of being in close contact at some time weighted heavy on our FMC ohana,” he wrote. “Worried for our coworkers and their families…. Terrified for my family that I come home to everyday that I may have exposed them to this virus. Hurt that some from our community was so negative during this crisis…we are all scared or frustrated but we are better than that.”

“It could have been anybody, or any company. No one wants to be them,” said Okimoto of those who tested positive. “This is beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. I don’t think anyone ever thought something like this could happen. [But] the Molokai community is so strong, more than any other community in the state, Molokai bands together.”

And band together the island has.

Tylor Tanaka created a Facebook page called “Molokai COVID-19 Relief” to help centralize information and assist those who need help during this time. On Sunday, Tanaka posted a call to malama FMC employees.

“They are our neighbors, they are our friends, they are ‘ohana. Let’s kokua them as they did us for many year,” the post read.

It received overwhelming support, and within hours, residents came up with a plan to “adopt a family” to deliver essentials to FMC employees in quarantine, or donate supplies to drop off locations.

“[I’m] humbled by the outpouring of love and support from our community and fellow businesses,” continued Len Wai. “Hopeful that we will pull through this stronger and better, but we all need to work together and continue to follow the rules and guidelines to prevent the spread and flatten the curve.”

As FMC employees remain in isolation, DeCoite said officials may be cracking down on enforcing the stay at home order for all residents.

“We’re trying to do the honor system with self-quarantine but it doesn’t seem to be working,” she said.

Officials continued to beg residents to stay at home.

“Please just behave as if you have the virus, keep your physical distance from people going out, wear a mask, and stay home as much as possible,” said Councilwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez. “If we all act like we have the virus, that will help to prevent a surge that our healthcare facilities will not be able to accommodate.”

Punahele Alcon, on behalf of Molokai General Hospital, posted to social media Sunday with some reassuring words for concerned residents.

“With the two recently identified positive COVID-19 tests on Molokai, many are wondering if they are at risk of exposure to the virus because they shopped at the store,” she wrote. “The risk of getting the virus from being a shopper is extremely low. The guidelines say: Higher risk for someone who was less than 6 feet away from a person who tested positive for 30 minutes or more, or if the infected person coughs or sneezes directly on a person less than 6 feet away.”

MGH recommended residents monitor for any signs of fever, cough or shortness of breath. If you develop any of these symptoms, call your doctor or MGH for screening. The hospital will continue to make appointments for curbside screening at the Outpatient Clinic Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. by appointment only, by calling 553-3121.

The information in this story is current as of press deadline Sunday, April 5 but with the current situation changing rapidly, updates will be available on The Molokai Dispatch Facebook page and website.

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