Two presumptive positive coronavirus cases were identified Friday afternoon at Kona Community Hospital, said COVID-19 Task Force chief Lt. Gov. Josh Green.
Both cases involve travelers, Green said, noting that officials were completing the verification process.
“They are not community spread, but they are cases,” said Green, who is also a practicing physician.
Kona Community Hospital spokeswoman Judy Donovan confirmed the two presumptive positive cases, but said she couldn’t comment further.
“The Department of Health takes over from here,” she said, noting that the department will trace contacts, which will include some hospital staff. “We will obviously work with them on that. I really don’t know anything more than that at this point.”
Prior to the presumptive positive cases at Kona Community Hospital, the Big Island had only one confirmed case thus far.
“This is a day where we’re about to see some more disease,” Green said after visiting the Kona hospital and learning about the presumptive positive cases. “This is the beginning as the tests come back in.”
Green was on island Friday visiting Kona Community Hospital and Hilo Medical Center to assess capacity and operations as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
“They’re very well prepared to see patients,” he said. “They need more PPE — personal protective equipment — especially at Kona, and we’d like to get extra supply for Hilo in advance of the surge.”
The COVID-19 Task Force chief urged those who stockpiled or have extra personal protective equipment to consider donating the items, such as masks, gloves and eye gear.
“There are people who did buy excessive amounts of protective gear,” Green said. “If they have extra, they can volunteer it for the hospitals where they’ll need it.”
He commended the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. facilities’ plans to work with the Queen’s North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea should the need arise.
“They’re being thoughtful about even partnering with North Hawaii (Community Hospital) if we do need to separate different classes of patients,” he said. “All of these things are very smart, and I think that it’s good that they’re doing this in advance of the crisis.”
At Kona Community Hospital, Green said he was pleased to see officials preparing the facility for a potential surge of patients, with a triage set up and plans for expanding beds.
“I think they will be ready when the time comes,” he said, noting additional isolation measures were being put in place Friday in the ER.
He did encourage the facility to consider increasing emergency room staff for at least two months — not only for a potential surge but the likelihood of patients coming to the facility for care for other maladies.
“A lot of outpatient practices and urgent cares are hitting the pause button and have closed temporarily,” Green said. “That unfortunately turns more people to the ER for basic things.”
Kona Community Hospital on Friday afternoon announced restricted visitor access to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure. The protocol was implemented Thursday and was not related to the two presumptive positive cases.
“Hospital leaders, the KCH infection prevention department and KCH medical staff have closed all patient units to visitors, until further notice,” a hospital press release reads. “This emergency measure is being taken to help minimize risk of potential COVID-19 exposure to patients, their loved ones and hospital employees. There are limited exceptions for patients on the obstetrics unit, pediatric patients and compassionate care patients.”
Green visited the Hilo Medical Center earlier Friday, receiving a tour of the facility’s intensive care unit and emergency room. He also reviewed the hospital’s intake plan for addressing COVID-19.
“It’s very well-organized,” he said.
Further, he explained, the hospital is capable of increasing its bed count by 67% should the need arise, with plans in place for using surgical wards and even outpatient facilities to house patients.
“They’re very well-prepared,” Green said. “Hilo, so far, is one of the most prepared places I’ve been.”
The Big Island has 294 licensed hospital beds, 24 intensive care unit beds and 39 ventilators, not including surge potential, according to figures provided Friday by Green. Statewide, there are 3,069 licensed hospital beds, 340 ICU beds and 561 ventilators.
Also while in Hilo, Green met with Mayor Harry Kim and the county’s emergency response team.
“We discussed the challenges that we think we have, the state plan and what we need to do better,” he said.
He and Kim agreed “a lot more testing is needed,” he said.
“Only with testing will we know what the background disease state is — where we are as a people — and that’s very important,” Green explained. “We can’t model how many cases we expect to have in the hospital on ventilators until we know exactly what the background rate of disease is and how much spread there’s been.”
Email Chelsea Jensen at firstname.lastname@example.org.