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New Molokai Case Last Week

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

Last week brought a new COVID-19 case on Molokai, reported by the Dept. of Health on Feb. 11, bringing the island’s total cases since the pandemic began to 26.

Kaunakakai Elementary School closed last Friday for sanitation due to two students’ exposure to COVID-19.

“I was made aware today of COVID-19 cases involving two of our students from the same household,” wrote Principal Daniel Espaniola Feb. 11 letter to school families. He added he was “awaiting documentation confirming their diagnosis.” It was unclear as of Friday whether the two students’ exposure was related to the case reported by the DOH, or separate.

Espaniola outlined the dates the two students were last on campus and sent wishes for a speedy recovery to the family. “Out of an abundance of caution, our school will be shifting to Distance Learning tomorrow, Friday, Feb. 12. This will allow us to professionally disinfect the impacted areas and conduct a thorough investigation alongside the Hawaii State Dept. of Health…. School will resume on Tuesday, Feb. 16,” he continued.

Espaniola asked families to continue to practice social distancing, wear a mask, wash hands frequently and avoid unnecessary social gatherings.

“We have the ability to play a large role in combating this pandemic,” he wrote. “I urge everyone to do their part both on and off campus, which includes following county, state and federal requirements to stop the spread of the virus.”

Statewide as of Friday, the average number of positive cases per day had dropped to 63.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released new guidelines for mask wearing, recommending the public choose cloth masks with multiple layers.

“Pick a mask with layers to keep your respiratory droplets in and others’ out,” states the recommendations. “A mask with layers will stop more respiratory droplets getting inside your mask or escaping from your mask if you are sick.”

The CDC also advises to make sure the mask fits snugly around your face, as gaps can let air with respiratory droplets, which is how COVID-19 is known to spread, “leak in and out around the edges of the mask.”

Wondering when to wear a mask? “Anytime you are indoors or outdoors with people who don’t live with you,” according to the CDC.

The Department of Labor and Industrial Relations announced that Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) has been extended by 11 weeks. The Continued Assistance Act allows PEUC claimants an additional 11 weeks of benefits payable for the week ending Jan. 2 through March 13 and a phaseout to April 10. Payments will also include the additional $300 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation weekly benefit. The state DLIR says it will begin processing approximately 68,000 potential eligible claims beginning on Feb. 15 until all potential eligible claims are available and processed. The department will run batches of approximately 5,000-10,000 claims on a nightly basis.

Once a claimant’s monetary determination has been established, they will be able to file weekly claim certifications going back to the week ending Jan. 2, 2021. Claimants will receive a monetary determination by mail notifying them that an additional 11 weeks of benefits have been added.

A recent statewide survey shows the negative impacts of the pandemic on mental health.

“The virus that causes COVID-19 is affecting the mental health of all Hawaii residents, but especially young adults and those whose household income is less than $50,000,” the DOH reported. “A recent survey commissioned by DOH showed a solid majority, or 82 percent of respondents have experienced a mental health condition at some point over the last six months.”

Slightly more than half of those say their symptoms began during the pandemic. Of those who experienced a mental health condition before the pandemic, 35 percent felt that their symptoms became worse during the pandemic.

“We’re all being affected by the pandemic,” said Amy Curtis, chief administrator of the DOH Adult Mental Health Division. “This is a real issue that calls attention to the need to be vigilant
about meeting the needs of our neighbors, friends, co-workers and others in the community. We encourage everyone to continue to confide in family or friends, seek support from a therapist or
to call the Hawaii CARES hotline.”

If you or a loved one needs support, call Hawaii CARES at (800) 753-6879 or text “ALOHA” to 741741.

The statewide survey also showed changing attitudes to the COVID-19 vaccine. Most respondents — 91 percent — indicate they plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine, which officials say is a strong indication that attitudes about the vaccine are rapidly shifting since administration of the vaccinations first began in mid-December.

According to the survey commissioned by DOH, 55 percent plan to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible and 36 percent will wait before receiving their vaccinations. Previous surveys conducted by the DOH and the University of Hawaii before the vaccinations were available in Hawaii showed about 50 percent of residents would accept COVID-19 vaccine, while the other half indicated they did not plan to get vaccinated or were still undecided.

“This is a positive change in a relatively short time,” said Dr. Elizabeth Char, DOH director. “As we anticipated, those who were initially hesitant about getting the vaccine are now much more comfortable as they see family, friends, co-workers and others safely receiving their first and second doses.”

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