State officials are not surprised or alarmed by the spike in COVID-19 cases over the past week as they anticipated an increase with the gradual reopening of the economy.
During a press conference this afternoon, Gov. David Ige said the new cases are manageable and the Department of Health is prepared for it.
“This is a marathon,” Ige said. “As we begin to see increased activity, establish inter-island travel…we certainly expect to see an increase in COVID-19 cases.”
Ten of the 15 cases reported today, six were children and nine were adults. DOH Director Bruce Anderson said 10 of the cases came from the same household connected to a previously confirmed case.
The other cases identified throughout the past week, Anderson said, have been associated with previous cases or known cluster areas.
While no new outbreaks have been found, the director added, the virus is still in the community and residents need to continue to social distance and wear face coverings in public.
Anderson said there is no evidence that any of the new cases were directly related to Memorial Day gatherings of Black Lives Matter protests.
The economy has been shut down since March, putting a tremendous strain on residents, businesses and families with kūpuna in long-term health care facilities as visitations — with the exception of end-of-life visits — are currently restricted to keep the potential spread of COVID-19 away from the state’s most vulnerable population.
“The separation from our kūpuna has been difficult,” Anderson said.
In an effort to unite families with their kūpuna, the DOH and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have awarded $30,000 to long-term health care facilities for the purchase of equipment that would allow virtual visits. Anderson said there are plans to distribute another $30,000 to facilities in July.
Hawai‘i is the lowest in the country for outbreaks in nursing homes. To date, out of the 5,000 people in long-term care facilities, there has been only one confirmed case among a resident in a Maui facility, who was exposed elsewhere. Three staff members at one of the largest facilities have been diagnosed with the virus and another is currently under investigation.
Two of the employees were from the same household, said Hilton Raethel, President and CEO, Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i. The illness was discovered through employer screening. The employees had direct contact with residents and were quickly quarantined.
“All staff and residents in two facilities have been offered testing and all tests have come back negative,” Raethel said.
Staff and residents at long-term health care facilities are assessed regularly Any investigation into a COVID case, Anderson said, is immediately investigated. Throughout pandemic, Anderson added, the DOH has continued to do onsite inspection at facilities.
“We have a team dedicated to preventing and responding to outbreaks in healthcare settings, including long-term care facilities,” Anderson said.
This team, Anderson said, has been conducting infection control assessment and response meetings by phone since May 18 and have completed assessments on 37 facilities.
“We anticipate reaching all 48 skilled nursing facilities in the state by June 18,” he said. “Through these meetings, we can answer facilities’ questions in detail, identify and address gaps, and provide technical assistance as they refine their COVID-response plans.”
Building off this model, the team is also developing strategies to provide similar assistance and guidance to adult residential care homes and assisted living facilities, across the state.