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Two More COVID Cases Last Week

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

Two more Molokai residents tested positive for COVID-19 last week, bringing the island’s case total to six since the pandemic began. One of the cases was a county Dept. of Public Works employee, prompting testing of about 20 coworkers at the Molokai baseyard, all of which came back negative as of last Wednesday, according to Maui County. Retesting was done for about 10 employees as a precaution, with news of the results not released as of Sunday.

The Department of Public Works was notified of the employee’s positive test last Monday afternoon. That individual went into self-isolation at home and department ordered deep cleaning of the baseyard and vehicles last Tuesday morning, according to a county release.

“We are working diligently to safeguard the health and safety of our employees and members of the public while still maintaining government operations,” Mayor Michael Victorino said, also announcing the positive results of two other county workers on Maui. “Employees who’ve been in close contact with positive employees are in self-quarantine, and we are aggressively testing other employees and conducting thorough, professional decontamination cleaning of work areas.”

Close contacts were identified and went into self-quarantine last week. Essential functions at the Molokai baseyard are expected to be maintained during this time.

A public testing event was held on Molokai on Tuesday, Sept. 8 for those experiencing symptoms or with suspected exposure. Drive-thru diagnostic PCR testing was conducted by Minit Medical and staff will call individuals with all results, which are expected to take one to three days.

Kualapu’u School, which temporarily closed two weeks ago after a student was exposed to a confirmed COVID case, announced its campus would remain closed through Sept. 11.

“The COVID-19 situation is very fluid, and presents many challenges and factors,” wrote school administration in a letter to the school community. “As a result, Kualapu’u School will be transitioning to distance learning from now until Friday, Sept. 11, with the possibility of extending beyond this day. A determining factor of the extension of distance learning is the number of confirmed COVID cases that are directly impacting the school. As of this email, there are no known positive cases with Kualapu’u staff or students.”

The letter also stated that administration hopes to develop “other safe practices and protocols in place so that school does NOT need to close in the event Molokai has another COVID case impacting school.”

Daniel Espaniola, principal of Kaunakakai School — which previously announced it would start the first several weeks of the school year with full distance learning — said last week that decision would extend through the first quarter ending Oct. 2.

“This has been a challenging time for all of us,” wrote Espaniola to parents. “Your child’s education is very important to each and every one of us here at KES. Although we realize the importance of the health and safety of everyone during these unprecedented times. Due to the recent positive COVID-19 cases in our community, we feel we should not open with our Blended Rotation Model on Sept. 8. We will continue with distance learning until the end of the first quarter Oct. 2.”

Molokai High School is also extending distance learning through the first quarter.

Principal Katina Soares cited continued delays in the completion of three buildings on campus still under construction, which is impacting eight classrooms. Offisland essential workers continue to work on campus to repair two buildings, making potential interaction between students, staff and the construction workers a concern with high case numbers off island, Soares added. In addition, several staff are in isolation following possible exposure to Molokai COVID-19 cases, she wrote in a letter to the school community last week.

On the statewide front, Dept. of Health leadership is stepping down from their positions following widespread criticism of state response to the pandemic and calls for change. Director Bruce Anderson announced his retirement effective Sept. 15. Dr. Libby Char, an emergency room physician, has been appointed to assume leadership of the Dept. of Health. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist who led the state’s COVID-19 response, is taking a leave of absence starting this week.

Public Safety Department Director Nolan Espinda is also retiring following calls for his firing after widespread COVID-19 outbreaks at the Oahu Community Correctional Center that many blame on state inaction.

A new, online state Safe Travels system that’s mandatory to complete prior to both interisland and mainland travel effective Sept. 1 has been causing confusion. All travelers are required to complete the state form, however, travelers to Maui County airports still need to submit the Maui County application for limited travel quarantine online at mauicounty.gov. This form must be completed at least three days prior to departure.

For those applying for a Limited Quarantine Exemption, the application should be completed before submitting the separate online state Safe Travels application. The new state form has a field to input a traveler’s limited quarantine application number.

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