Hawaii’s long-term care homes have lowest COVID-19 rate in the nation

  • Bruce Anderson

Even as COVID-19 cases rise again in Hawaii, state officials assured residents Friday that the island’s long-term care facilities remain safe.

At a news conference Friday, Bruce Anderson, director of the state Department of Health, said only one patient in the state’s long-term care facilities — specifically, in a care home on Maui — has had a confirmed case of COVID-19, a significantly better result than other states in the nation.

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Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid indicate that Hawaii’s COVID-19 rate in long-term care facilities is the lowest in the nation

“Hawaii’s long-term care facilities have been protected from COVID-19 because we’ve been successful as a community in keeping instances low in the state,” Raethel said.

However, because the elderly are particularly at risk of contracting and dying from the disease, Anderson said the state and care providers are taking additional precautions to ensure that long-term care facilities remain secure as the state’s reopening leads to a new influx of cases.

In particular, Anderson said, 23 facilities have received a total of $30,000 from the state to install video communication equipment to better allow residents to communicate with the outside world as they remain in lockdown. An additional $30,000 will be disbursed to other facilities next month.

Meanwhile, a team within the DOH is conducting assessments of all skilled nursing facilities in the state to assess their COVID-19 management plans, and the department has advised facilities to maintain multiple daily tests of employees and residents.

Anderson also reminded providers that they are required by law to report any suspected or confirmed cases, and the state maintains a 24/7 reporting line that responds immediately to suspected cases. Any suspected case within a facility triggers a thorough investigation of the entire facility.

Anderson and Raethel reported Friday that three employees at long-term facilities have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began, and the Department of Health is investigating a potential fourth at “one of the largest care homes in the state,” Anderson said.

Even as the number of cases increases, the John A. Burns School of Medicine announced Friday that it will commence testing of a drug that could reduce COVID-19 symptoms.

The drug, called Telmisartan, will be tested on 40 newly diagnosed COVID-19 patients over 21-day single-blind trial, in the hopes of mitigating the disease’s lung- and heart-related complications that lead to hospitalization, said Cecilia Shikuma, a professor at the school.

“We believe that vaccines, obviously, are necessary to prevent disease,” Shikuma said. “But drugs that can minimize the harmful effects of COVID-19 are likely to also have major public health benefits.”

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Should the study find initial success, Shikuma said the medical school will seek funding, possibly from the National Institute of Health, to expand the study possibly to a national scale.

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

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