Ke Kula O Ehunuikaimalino students test positive for COVID-19

Two Ke Kula O Ehunuikaimalino students recently tested positive for COVID-19, days after the school reopened for limited in-person learning.

In a letter tendered Tuesday to students, parents and guardians, Pookumu (principal) Makala Paakaula said she was made aware of the positive test results of the two students of the K-12 Hawaiian language immersion school in Kealakekua.

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Both students were asymptomatic and tested positive for the novel coronavirus on Monday, the letter said, citing state Department of Health School Health Section Administrator Jennifer Ryan. One of the students was last on the campus on Oct. 27 and the other on Oct. 29.

“These cases are connected and within the same household. We are in contact with the family and have sent our aloha and hope for a speedy recovery,” reads the letter by Paakaula, who was unable to be reached for additional comment as of press-time Wednesday.

According to the school’s online calendar, Ke Kula O Ehunuikaimalino, which enrolled 253 students for the 2020-21 school year, began its first phase of reopening face-to-face learning last week, with half-day classes starting Oct. 27 for pupils identified as being vulnerable.

The first phase has been extended through at least Nov. 20. Phase two, which would expand face-to-face learning to students opting in, has been postponed, according to the calendar.

Ryan, according to Paakaula’s letter, indicated there was no risk of exposure from the two students to staff and other students because the pupils would not have become infectious until Oct. 31, two days prior to testing positive for COVID-19. Further, no school-based close contacts were identified.

Though health officials indicated no risk of exposure, Paakaula said the school was taking “extra layers of precaution” including notifying any staff members who could still be deemed a possible close contact of the students; contracting a professional cleaner to clean and sanitize “impacted areas” of the school; and directing all kumu (teachers) and assistants to continue telework and all casual employees to remain on no-work status until Monday, Nov. 9.

The school is also coordinating with the state Department of Health and its COVID-19 Response Team to mitigate any issues should they arise, Paakaula wrote.

“Principals all have protocol to follow when the get notified because the main purpose and main intent is to make sure that people are safe — staff and students included. Ehunui did follow that same process as soon as they got notified yesterday,” West Hawaii Complex Area Superintendent Janette Snelling said Wednesday afternoon.

Hawaii Island schools began the gradual transition to in-person instruction in mid-October for vulnerable students under the state’s Return to Learn: School Reopening Plan. Other students will continue distance learning for the time being until complexes determine when and how to reopen campuses.

“I think every school principal, staff (member) would like to have students back but we want to do it in a way that’s safe — so we can keep our staff, students and the entire community safe from community spread,” Snelling said, explaining that in addition to monitoring active cases, officials need to consider factors of readiness, including having enough personal protective equipment, being able to enforce social distancing and having clean facilities.

“We take it real seriously,” she added.

According to the state Department of Education, there were 26 COVID-19 cases reported among staff and students at Hawaii public schools across the state during the week ending Oct. 30. Since the end of June, nearly 200 students and staff have tested positive.

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The majority of the cases last week were related to schools on Lanai, where an outbreak of COVID-19 sickened nearly 100, including 17 students. Just two cases were on Hawaii Island: A student in the Hilo-Waiakea Area Complex and an employee in the Ka‘u-Keaau-Pahoa complex.

Ke Kula O Ehunuikaimalino is located on the same road as Konawaena Middle and High schools in Kealakekua. Despite the close proximity, Snelling said the school’s pupils do not interact and there is no concern for exposure to staff and students at the high or middle school.

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