Big Island reports 10th coronavirus fatality at veterans home as mass testing begins

Big Island reports 10th coronavirus fatality at veterans home as mass testing begins

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A 10th resident with COVID-19 at a Hilo veterans home has died, Hawaii County officials confirmed.

Meanwhile, mass testing began Wednesday at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home. Authorities said all patients, employees and other close contacts would be tested.

A spokesperson for the facility confirmed four additional positive tests came back Wednesday.

Out of 74 residents, 63 have now tested positive. Two additional employees also tested positive, bringing the total to 22.

All this happened over the course of a few weeks and some have questioned whether the county, state and nursing home were doing enough to contain it. The facility is the only nursing home in the state for veterans.

Up until now, internal testing was done just for patients and staff.

Now that Premier Medical Group is taking over the testing, all close contacts will also be checked.

“First and second-degree contacts and you figure out who has it, you isolate and you separate them,” said Dr. Soctt Miscovich, of Premier Medical Group, who criticized the facility for not doing more widespread testing sooner. “It’s because they all didn’t do it the right way. They all did some partial way."

Allison Griffiths, spokesperson for Avalon Health Care Group, which manages the facility, said their testing was done following the guidance of the CDC and that they worked closely with the state Department of Health. “We had not been testing family members of staff. That’s not something that was indicated to do."

But Griffiths said she’s glad that Premier Medical Group is now doing that. “The group that’s coming in has the capacity to do that and so they’ve expanded to close family members,” she said.

The group is testing everyone again over the weekend and a third time next Wednesday.

Dr. Ka’ohimanu Dang Akiona, Hawaii County medical director for the Premier Medical Group, said the three-step testing process allows them to catch those who are infected but may not yet be shedding the virus.

Some of the testers are going into the center to swab patients who are not mobile, but most are being brought outside.

Those who don’t live or work there are using the drive up service.

"Trying to keep the people going in and out of the home to a minimum knowing there’s an outbreak we want to be able to test the staff safely and the patients safely,” Akiona said.

The Hilo Medical Center next door has assisted with the outbreak.

CEO Dan Brinkman said he is cautiously optimistic with Big Island case numbers starting to go down after an August spike not just from the veterans home but because of community spread, attributed to funeral services and other large gatherings.

“They got a little scared, they started taking precautions not going out in the big groups as much and we started seeing the benefit,” Brinkman said.

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