The first case of COVID-19 in Hawaii was confirmed Friday.
Gov. David Ige said during a news conference Friday afternoon that the individual, an Oahu resident, traveled on the Grand Princess cruise ship in February and disembarked in Mexico before returning home.
The person became ill after returning to Hawaii, contacted their health care provider, and was tested for the recently identified coronavirus that has infected more than 100,000 people worldwide since it was first detected in China in late December.
“This is not a case of spread in the community,” Ige said. “We wanted to re-emphasize that we believe that they became infected on the trip itself.”
More than 10 passengers on a cruise aboard the Grand Princess that sailed from San Francisco to Mexico Feb. 11-21 have tested positive for COVID-19.
State health officials said the individual from Hawaii was on that cruise, and that the patient remains at home and is doing well.
A second subsequent cruise aboard the Grand Princess, including dozens of passengers who also sailed on the initial Mexican voyage, visited four stops in Hawaii late last month — Nawiliwili, Kauai, on Feb. 26; Honolulu on Feb. 27; Lahaina, Maui, on Feb. 28; and Hilo on Feb. 29.
The ship is now anchored off the California coast, and on Friday Vice President Mike Pence announced that two passengers and 19 crew members aboard have tested positive for the virus.
State officials are investigating who had close contact with those who tested positive, the Associated Press reported. The state Department of Health said it’s working to identify who disembarked at each port and who had close contact with those individuals.
The department said “close contact” is defined as close, personal face-to-face contact for more than 10 minutes, and that paying a bill at a checkout counter would not be considered prolonged close contact, according to the AP.
State Health Director Bruce Anderson said the agency wants to begin tests of people who have respiratory illnesses to see if any of them might have a case of unrecognized COVID-19, but testing people at risk of having been exposed to the virus will take priority, the AP reports.
The state currently has the capacity to test up to 250 samples per week, or double that number in an emergency.
Joshua Morris of Laupahoehoe, pastor at Hamakua Baptist Church, also is a bus driver for Hoppa-On Hoppa-Off tour bus, and was working Feb. 29 when the cruise ship passengers disembarked in Hilo.
The company, he said, had already ramped up sanitary precautions, using Lysol and wiping things down with bleach wipes, but the buses were running like a normal day.
“We didn’t know anything about the Grand Princess having any potential problem at all,” Morris said.
After news broke Friday of the confirmed cases, Morris said “it’s a little surreal.”
The outbreak is something everyone is talking and thinking about, he said, but this “brings it more close to home.”
When he spoke Friday afternoon, the situation was still developing, and Morris, 45, said he didn’t know if he’ll be asked by public health officials to self-quarantine or not.
But with thousands of ship passengers and dozens of tour companies operating, “I don’t know how they would contain it … .”
Nearly a week after the ship’s Hilo stop, Morris said he doesn’t have any symptoms.
He won’t self-quarantine completely, but will be cautious around his five children and two grandchildren, and is “definitely not going to be hugging my kids as much.”
“I think it’s probably inevitable that eventually it’ll work its way through all of the population,” Morris said, but a slower spread means the health care system can keep up with the virus.
“I don’t think there’s any stopping it,” he said. “I think (we have) probably been exposed, probably even before this cruise ship.”
The number of COVID-19 cases has continued to grow around the country.
Hawaiian Airlines on Friday announced it will adjust flight frequencies between Hawaii and Tokyo’s Haneda Airport at the end of March due to slowing travel demand attributed to the virus.
Effective March 28 through April 29, the airline will temporarily suspend flights that operate three-times-weekly between Kona International Airport and Haneda Airport, and four-times-weekly between Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport and Haneda, according to the airline.
At the same time, Hawaiian will launch an additional daily nonstop service between Honolulu and Tokyo as announced in November of last year.
“Japan is a vitally important market for our airline, and we have been looking forward to launching our third nonstop flight between Honolulu and Haneda, which offers more convenient connecting times for our guests,” said Peter Ingram, president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines.
“Unfortunately, the spread of COVID-19 beyond Asia has diminished near-term global travel demand, so we are balancing some of our Haneda capacity by suspending for about a month our hybrid service between Haneda and Honolulu and Kona.”
The Kona Choral Society on Friday announced the cancellation of a March 28 joint performance in Kailua-Kona with one of the country’s premiere collegiate ensembles, Stanford University Chamber Chorale. Lolly Davis, a director with KCS, said the free concert was canceled because Stanford University will not allow students to travel due to concerns over the virus.
But in Hilo, Luana Kawelu, president of the Merrie Monarch Festival, said Friday the festival is still planned for the week of April 12-18 at the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Tennis Stadium. The festival’s signature hula competition is April 16-18.
Kawelu said she met Thursday with Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim and the DOH and described the meeting as “very positive.”
According to Kawelu, Kim was “very supportive of getting county crews to help us” with stadium sanitation.
Kawelu added a traditional folk dance troupe from Japan has canceled its trip to Hilo to perform in the festival’s free ho‘ike on April 15. It will be replaced by Halau E Hulali Mai I Ka La of Kona, under the direction of kumu hula Chrissy Kama Henriques.
Kawelu said she hopes people will take personal responsibility and said those who are sick or concerned about the virus have the option of staying home.
Reporter John Burnett contributed to this story.
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.