HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Mass testing is underway as health officials investigate a cluster of coronavirus cases at Maui's largest hospital.
The state confirms at least 15 employees at Maui Memorial Medical Center tested positive for COVID-19. Many of those cases involve workers in the hospital’s cancer ward, sources told Hawaii News Now.
Health officials say the outbreak started in mid-March.
But HNN learned top members within the emergency command weren’t privy to the information until Wednesday morning. The state health director denies there was any cover-up.
However, Lt. Gov. Josh Green told HNN he had no clue about the cluster of coronavirus cases growing within the hospital — saying DOH had identified nine COVID-19 positive patients days ago.
In a FaceTime interview Green expressed anger at the lack of communication.
“I’m angry that I wasn’t informed about that last night or the day before and I’m sure that’s the sentiment of a lot of people in the central command," he said.
The public was first made aware of the cluster via Facebook. Mayor Mike Victorino made the announcement saying, “All of us are working shoulder to shoulder to address this situation.”
During that online news conference, the hospital’s CEO confirmed the 15 infected employees are in isolation.
“As soon as they had symptoms that were indicative of the Coronavirus we immediately furloughed them from the workplace,” said Maui Health CEO Mike Rembis.
“They were not positive at the time, we believe, when they were working.”
State Health Director Bruce Anderson says initial tests came back positive in mid-March and that many of those cases were travel-related. He says no one linked those patients to the hospital until Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the virus was spreading.
“There was some disease transmission occurring between workers," Anderson said. "Probably between patients and a worker. And between other workers in that hospital.”
He added Maui Memorial wasn’t adhering to infection control principles, like requiring visitors to undergo temperature checks and wear masks upon entering the building.
On top of that, Anderson stated the hospital wasn’t providing staff with enough personal protective equipment.
“I’ve had contact with a number of people in the hospital who essentially said PPE was being rationed," he said.
Now, testing is the task at hand. Green said everyone who was in close contact with those 15 patients can be swabbed whether they have symptoms or not.
The health director says the outbreak didn’t effect the entire hospital and Maui Memorial Medical Center remains operational.