County sanitizes popular park facilities

  • Zoo guests watch as Bengal tigers, Tzatiki and Sriracha, get frozen bone birthday treats during the 2019 Tiger Fun Day at Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens in Hilo. (Tribune-Herald file photo)

As fears of the coronavirus outbreak mount, areas popular with tourists are taking precautions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

On Friday, maintenance workers with the county Department of Parks and Recreation disinfected facilities at several county-operated parks after it was learned that some passengers and crew on Princess Cruises’ Grand Princess, which visited Hilo on Feb. 29, tested positive for the coronavirus.

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Based on the knowledge that the areas are popular with tourists and cruise ship passengers, maintenance workers worked overtime to sanitize facilities at Richardson Ocean Park, Mooheau Park, Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and other frequently visited areas.

Although there have yet to be any confirmed cases of the virus on the Big Island, county departments are taking precautions now to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

“We’ve upped all of our safety protocols,” said Parks and Recreation Director Roxcie Waltjen. “We’re sanitizing surfaces and doing normal cleaning work, but being extra conscientious about it and doing it more often.”

Janet Snyder, spokeswoman for Mayor Harry Kim, said the county has a “very thorough” program for disinfecting its facilities, explaining that any facility the county controls will be regularly sanitized throughout the coming weeks. For example, Parks and Recreation will sanitize every facility they control three times each day.

“And this is just going to be ongoing for the duration (of the outbreak), I would imagine,” Snyder said.

Snyder said she does not anticipate the increased sanitation work will incur overtime, although the workers on Friday had worked overtime because they were dispatched late in the day.

While several businesses around the country have implemented work-from-home policies to minimize the risk of infection and spread via their employees, no such policy has been discussed for county workers, Snyder said.

Meanwhile, the island’s most popular tourist destination, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, has adopted a “wait and see” policy before making any changes to its procedures.

Jessica Ferracane, acting regional spokesperson for the National Park Service, said in an email that the national park will continue to operate normally for the time being, but also is working closely with regional and the Washington, D.C., National Park Service offices to monitor the situation.

“We are focusing on ensuring employees, their families, and visitors are safe by following (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance regarding actions to help prevent the spread of viruses, particularly during flu and respiratory disease season, along with all other safety policies and procedures for normal operations,” Ferracane wrote.

Ferracane also said that the virus’ impact on visitor numbers is hard to quantify. Because the park does not track visitors’ points of origin, it is difficult to determine whether the number of visitors from certain areas is changing.

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She also noted that the national parks generally have lower visitation rates around March even in the best of times, and will pick up again around Memorial Day.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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