State Capitol building closes after senator tests positive for coronavirus

Updated: Mar. 19, 2020 at 5:23 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Capitol building is closed following news that state Sen. Clarence Nishihara tested positive Thursday for coronavirus.

It’s the first confirmed case of coronavirus linked to the state Capitol building.

Nishihara, a Democrat who is in his 70s, is in his fourth term. He represents Waipahu, Pearl City and Pacific Palisades.

Nishihara said he first became worried around the middle of February.

“For a number of days I had a fever,” he said. He then went to see his doctor.

“He checked me out, did the nose swab and he did the throat swab, and he said I don’t have any signs of the flu, but they didn’t know what I had," said Nishihara.

The fever subsided, and he was given the okay to take a trip to Las Vegas.

Nishihara then caught what he thought was a cold that wouldn’t go away. He decided to get tested for the coronavirus on March 12, and received a call from the urgent care clinic doctor Thursday, telling him he tested positive.

Nishihara asked the physician if he could have gotten the virus during his trip.

“Based on what he heard and what I told him, he thought it was more likely that I caught it there in Vegas, rather than catching it before I went,” he said.

Nishihara said he didn’t have severe symptoms, and still went to the Capitol on Monday for a floor session in the senate chambers.

House Speaker Scott Saiki said the state House will be closed through at least April 5, and the legislative session has been suspended indefinitely.

Senate President Ron Kouchi recommedded that all senate offices be closed indefinitely.

“In an abundance of caution, we just thought it would be better to send everybody home and then let the Department of Health start its process,” said Kouchi.

That started with the immediate testing of anyone who may have come in close contact with Nishihara. Dozens lined up at a swiftly set-up test site in the capitol auditorium, with everyone from legislative staffers to lawmakers.

“Most of us have been in contact with senator (Nishihara), because we’re only 25 and we’re in the same chambers,” said Sen. Lorraine Inouye, who’s also in her 70s.

"We were told it was a matter of time before there are going to be more cases, and a matter of time that someone in the building -- of course we were hoping that it wasn’t going to happen,” said Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, who’s a member of the legislative select committee studying the economic impact of the COVID-19 virus.

“We need to employ preventive measures a lot more harsher than what’s happened because if what we’re reacting to right now -- what is it going to be llike two weeks from now? What’s it going to be like a month from now?” Kim asked.

Nishihara’s case comes as Hawaii is reporting 10 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the statewide total to 26. It’s the highest one-day total since the pandemic started.

Complicating matters, authorities were releasing different statistics. The Health Department initially said six new cases had been confirmed, but Lt. Josh Green said the actual number was higher.

DOH revised its total later in the day.

Nishihara said he’s recovering in isolation at home for at least two weeks. Other than cold-like symptoms, he feels fine. But he says anyone who wants to be tested for the coronavirus should be able to get one.

“Could be like me. You don’t really feel like you had it,” he said.

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