Caldwell denies retirement potluck was source of COVID-19 infections at Honolulu Hale

Updated: Aug. 13, 2020 at 7:14 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two days after a cluster of COVID cases led to the closure of Honolulu Hale, the Department of Health reports the virus may have spread at an employee potluck at the city building ― and that 11 cases are “potentially linked” to the luncheon.

Monday afternoon, Mayor Kirk Caldwell admitted there was recently a large potluck on Honolulu Hale grounds, but denied it was the source of those infections.

Hawaii News Now obtained a flier that many Honolulu Hale employees found inside their inboxes late last month, alerting staff to a retirement party for a member of the city’s purchasing department.

The two-hour farewell event happened on July 24.

That was the same day Hawaii set one of its single-day records, with 60 new cases of the virus ― and health officials were already warning that gatherings among friends, family and coworkers were contributing to the spike.

Caldwell says the party should have never happened and that he just found out about it this morning. Since then, he says he’s compiled a list of close to 30 people who were there ― and that no one on that list had tested positive.

“There was a tent outside. People walked through got their bento,” Mayor Caldwell said. “People said good luck, I really enjoyed working with you, and went back to work.”

Caldwell says both masks and social distancing were required at the party. On top of the 11 staff members at Honolulu Hale who tested positive previously, the mayor said two more positives came back today from Monday’s mass testing.

“We’ve confirmed no cases from the retirement party that we know of,” said Caldwell. “We do know there have been gatherings in lunchrooms in BFS (Budget and Fiscal Services) where they were not practicing physical distancing or wearing a mask, and perhaps that was what the Department of Health was referring to.”

City Council member Ikaika Anderson was baffled to learn there were any social gatherings happening at all.

During an interview with HNN, Anderson said: “It’s ill advised to host a gathering, especially indoors, at this time. I’m not sure what these employees were thinking.”

Critics say it’s not the first time the city’s exercised poor judgment during the pandemic.

“The gatherings in the streets for street fairs, the event in Chinatown, now this at Honolulu Hale, are all catastrophically stupid decisions and that’s why you get spread,” said Lt. Governor Josh Green.

While we wait for the Department of Health to pinpoint the potluck those cases are connected to, Mayor Caldwell said Wednesday he has issued a new directive to employees today banning all social gatherings.

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