At least 7 cases of coronavirus confirmed in Hawaii as governor urges preparedness

Updated: Mar. 16, 2020 at 10:47 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - There are now at least seven confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Hawaii after the governor reported five new travel-related cases over the weekend.

Although there’s no evidence that the virus is spreading in the community, Gov. David Ige urged residents to take steps now to prepare for that in the future.

In a news conference Sunday at the state Capitol, Ige announced that public schools would extend spring break by a week — with students returning March 30 — in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus.

He also urged people to avoid crowds, stay home if they’re sick, and opt to work remotely if possible.

State Health Director Bruce Anderson added that “this is the time we need to take action.”

“You want to put the preventive measures in place,” he said. “We can’t continue just to chase cases.”

Across the state, many are heeding that warning, canceling large events and avoiding public spaces, from shopping malls to movie theaters.

But at Sunday’s news conference, Ige stopped short of issuing any sweeping orders or guidelines to businesses, and said his administration was still reviewing the CDC’s new recommendations that urge people across the United States to avoid groups of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks.

“We’re asking the community to be part of the team,” Ige said. “If you have symptoms and are feeling ill, you should contact your health care provider. They can provide you guidance on what actions to take.”

Ige said that with testing ramping up, including with private labs on board, it’s likely Hawaii will see “many additional cases” in the short-term.

“We do believe that the virus is now spread across the United States," Ige said. “We again encourage people to cancel non-essential travel."

At the news conference, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said the city would also be taking more steps to prevent the spread of the illness, including suspending senior programs at parks, setting up a triage center for homeless people who may become ill, and encouraging government employees to work from home.

The three new cases reported Sunday — two on Oahu and one on Maui — are all linked to recent travel.

The governor released the following details about the three:

  • One of the Oahu cases involved a person who traveled to Colorado from Feb. 29 to March 7. That person began to exhibit symptoms March 9, and is now in self-isolation with family.
  • The second Oahu case involved someone who traveled to Florida, returning March 8. The person took a coronavirus test on March 10, and is also self-isolating.
  • And the third case involves an Air Canada flight attendant now on Maui. The patient was exposed to a coronavirus patient in Germany and so self-isolated at the Royal Lahaina Resort until getting tested. The person has since been transferred to a clinic and placed in isolation.

The announcements came less than 24 hours after authorities revealed that two Kauai visitors had also tested positive for coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.

While on Kauai, the couple — an adult man and woman — stayed at the Marriott Resort in Lihue.

A spokesperson for the hotel said they’re aware that the couple stayed at the hotel and are “taking steps to ensure the safety of our guests and associates.”

The couple is now in an “isolation facility” and their condition has improved so they do not need hospitalization.

Here’s what we know about their itinerary:

  • The two traveled from Indiana on a direct United Airlines flight to Maui on March 2.
  • They stayed in Kaanapali from March 2 to 8. Shortly after their arrival, however, one of the visitors developed a fever, shortness of breath and cough. That visitor went to an urgent care facility.
  • On March 7, the second visitor also started developing symptoms and went to urgent care.
  • A day later, both of the visitors flew to Kauai on Hawaiian Airlines Flight 149.
  • They’ve been on Kauai since then, and were staying at the Kauai Marriott until being placed in an isolation facility provided by the county.
  • Ige said that on March 9, one of the visitors — the first to get sick — visited an urgent care facility on Kauai. The visitor was prescribed antibiotics.
  • Then, on Thursday, the visitors went to Wilcox Medical Center. At that point, the two informed health care workers that they’d had close contact with an individual who had tested positive for coronavirus.

Late Friday, the two tested positive for COVID-19.

The state Department of Health said approximately 80 test results received from Clinical Labs of Hawaii are being reviewed.

Officials said three health care workers — two on Maui and one on Kauai — are now in self-isolation because they were not wearing protective equipment when they saw the visitors.

“We are working with the two individuals to get as detailed an itinerary as we can," Ige said.

"As we are identifying places that they went to, we are informing restaurants or tour activities to inform them that they came into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.”

Ige said anyone who had close, prolonged contact with the two Indiana visitors is being asked to go into self-isolation and monitor their symptoms. It’s unclear how many people fit into that category.

State Health Director Bruce Anderson said the case underscores the importance of informing health care professionals when you’ve had close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

He said the two had been informed of their connection to an infected person on the day they sought treatment at Wilcox hospital.

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The two previous cases of coronavirus in Hawaii were both in adults who had traveled out of state. One had traveled on a cruise ship while the other had visited Washington state.

The new cases Sunday come amid growing concern about the potential spread of coronavirus in the U.S.

In Hawaii, large events — from the Merrie Monarch to Song Contest — have been canceled in a bid to prevent people from getting sick. Universities are moving classes online.

And public health officials are urging people to practice “social distancing," forgoing large gatherings and instead staying home whenever possible.

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