State health officials said there is no “significant risk” to the public after a dozen people associated with a Kailua-Kona fast-food establishment tested positive for COVID-19.
As of Tuesday, 12 people, including seven employees and five family members, associated with two currently closed McDonald’s locations had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, Health Director Bruce Anderson said during the state’s daily briefing streamed online. The five family members were exposed to two of the employees who tested positive for COVID-19.
Anderson said more test results are expected in the coming days, though he did not specify how many people had been tested to date or whether additional testing will be undertaken amid the ongoing health department investigation. The number of cases associated with the restaurants jumped from eight on Monday to 12 on Tuesday.
Despite the cluster of cases, Anderson didn’t believe there was a “significant risk” to customers who visited the two locations in Kona that closed Friday for disinfection after the first test results were returned April 9. As of Tuesday afternoon, McDonald’s locations inside the Kona Walmart and at Kona Commons were shuttered while the Kuakini Highway location remained open to drive-through customers.
“At this time, we don’t believe any of the customers were impacted. We can’t for sure, of course, say that no one was (infected), but we haven’t received any reports of anyone ill as a result of patronizing that facility,” he said. “Further, I would add, that they did have all the safeguards in place: they had shields, they were careful about the handing out of food – they did everything right. The problem in this case was the individual who was ill and inadvertently spread the COVID virus to coworkers, which is a very common problem in food service establishments across the country.”
The Department of Health Tuesday evening said the Food and Drug Administration has thus far found no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.
“The health and safety of our employees and customers is our number one priority. Our organization is continuing to make changes to restaurant operations to serve food safely and conveniently with the health and well-being of restaurant employees top of mind,” a quote attributed to McDonald’s franchise owner, Patrick Lim of the Lim Organization, read. “We have closed our Kona Commons and McDonald’s of Walmart Kona locations for deep cleaning to conduct a comprehensive sanitization of the restaurant. Our thoughts are with our crew members who have been impacted by COVID-19 and we look forward to re-opening when it is safe to do so and with the assistance of the Hawaii Department of Health in accordance with CDC regulations.”
All of the individuals who had tested positive as of Tuesday were isolated, according to Anderson, who confirmed a report that one patient was flown to Oahu for treatment.
In addition, exposed coworkers without symptoms and those who came in close contact with the COVID-positive persons are in self-quarantine at home, though Anderson did not provide a figure of how many people could have been exposed.
“It’s interesting that the individual who was infected, who unknowingly infected his coworker, also lived in a very large household of extended families, and seven members of that household were found infected, positive for COVID-19. Which just goes to show how quickly this disease can be spread in facilities, and, of course, in your home, and why we need to be so vigilant in assuring that we are maintaining our social distancing and using protective equipment,” said Anderson, who earlier said the cluster “points to how rapidly this thing can turn wrong.”
Mayor Harry Kim, who first confirmed the cluster of cases on Monday, said the community should learn from this ongoing incident.
“All of us should look upon this as a real lesson on this coronavirus; how easy it is to have a quiet period to exploding in your face,” Kim said, noting the county will be ramping up preventative efforts to include by the end of the week deploying county workers with foggers to disinfect areas such as sidewalks, hospitals and urgent care facilities.
Meanwhile Tuesday, the state recorded 13 new positive COVID-19 cases bringing Hawaii’s total to 517 since Feb. 28. Of the total cases, 333 have recovered and been released from isolation. To date, nine deaths have been reported, including six on Oahu and three on Maui.
Eight of the new positive COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday were among Hawaii residents while one was a visitor. The other four cases announced were diagnosed among Hawaii residents who are currently out of state. Anderson said those people would have to undergo a 14-day quarantine to return home.
Hawaii County reported just one new case, bringing the island’s total to 41. Maui reported two cases and Oahu six on Tuesday.
“Your self-sacrifice has not gone unnoticed. Had we not sacrificed so much by staying home, by not going to work, by sacrificing some of our economic opportunity, instead of heaving 517 cases, we would have 5,000 or more cases and I can say that with absolute certainty,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green while displaying a chart showing a flattening of “the curve.”
However, he cautioned residents not to become complacent.
“You’ve done something extraordinary to flatten this curve to date. Do not let get it away from us, do not let your guard down, don’t suddenly stop social distancing, don’t suddenly refuse to be at home in isolation. Please listen to the gov and the team and we’ll get through this OK,” Green said in reference Ige’s stay-at-home order that remains in effect through April 30.
Green also provided an update on hospital bed and ventilator counts for the state during the daily briefing.
As of Tuesday, about 49%, or 1,354, of the state’s 2,773 hospital beds were occupied, which is lower than average, and of the state’s 244 adult intensive care unit beds, 89, or 36%, were occupied. In addition, just 39 of the 535 ventilators in the state were in use — down 22 from Monday.
Though capacity exists and the state hasn’t seen a large number of COVID-19 positive patients, the Healthcare Association of Hawaii and the state Department of Health announced Tuesday they are seeking volunteers for the Hawaii Medical Reserve Corps.
“We’re asking licensed health care professionals not currently working in a medical role to consider volunteering so as to shore up medical personnel for a potential surge in COVID-19 patients,” said Healthcare Association of Hawaii President and CEO Hilton Raethel, MPH, MHA.
Both medical and nonmedical personnel are needed, including retired and out-of-state professionals or individuals who may have previously held a clinical license, he said. For more information or to volunteer, visit www.nlk.doh.hawaii.gov.
“We are looking for physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, radiologic technologists, EMTs, community health workers and other nonmedical roles,” Raethel said.
According to the University of Hawaii’s Hawaii Physician Workforce Assessment Project Report released in December 2019, 10,510 physicians are licensed to practice in the state of Hawaii.