Virus strikes vets home; two Hilo medical clinics also have COVID-19 cases

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Liberty Dialysis in Hilo on Tuesday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Ten COVID-19 cases have been linked to Yukio Okutsu Veterans Home in Hilo.

Three employees and seven residents at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home have tested positive for COVID-19.

The new cases come a day after it was reported that two employees at the facility had tested positive for the virus.

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According to an update posted online, two residents are being cared for at Hilo Medical Center and five are being treated at the facility in isolation.

The staff members are self-isolating at home and won’t return to work until cleared to do so.

Staff members are screened before entering the facility and sent home if they report signs or symptoms of COVID-19 or any illness, the update states. Staff also wear appropriate personal protective equipment.

“Based on our contact tracing, we believe the virus entered the facility through a staff member who was exposed in the community,” the update reads.

The initial staff member tested positive on Aug. 22, followed by a second on Aug. 23 and the third on Tuesday.

All residents and staff were tested Aug. 23-24 and results from Aug. 24 are still pending.

In an email provided to the Tribune-Herald, a spokeswoman said a testing plan is still being worked out, but it likely will include testing all residents and staff in shifts every three days until no additional new positive cases are found.

Civil Defense Administrator Talmadge Magno said he believes this is the first incident of COVID-19 in a long-term care home on Hawaii Island.

The veterans home is a Hawaii Health Systems Corp. facility, along with neighboring Hilo Medical Center, but is managed by Avalon.

“We’re communicating, supporting and working closely with the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home to ensure the residents’ safety,” HMC spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said. “Avalon has provided excellent care over the years, and we’re confident that we will successfully resolve this COVID outbreak.”

Mayor Harry Kim, a U.S. Army medic during the Vietnam War, said he “feels horrible” that the outbreak has spread to the veterans home.

“Our duty is to make them feel as pleasant and comfortable as possible,” he said. “… And when I send a message to the community to protect your family, protect your friends, protect your community — that’s what I’m talking about.”

Other Hilo health care facilities also are combating the virus.

In a post to its Facebook page on Monday, Bay Clinic said an employee of the Hilo Family Health Center had tested positive on Aug. 22. The employee is in isolation at home.

In an emailed response to questions from the Tribune-Herald, CEO C. Kimo Alameda said Tuesday marked four days since the employee was with staff or patients.

“Those who have met the guidelines for exposure have been notified, are being tested, and we will await those results,” he said.

Alameda did not say whether the employee had contact with patients, but said, “We are a health care facility and interactions with patients occur in various capacities. We have risk reduction protocols in place before, during and after patient visits to decrease the transmission of the disease.”

This was the first Bay Clinic employee to test positive for COVID-19.

“We have done really well since March to protect our patients and employees,” Alameda said. “Because of the extreme sanitation and (personal protective equipment) practices before, during and after patient visits, it is unlikely that the employee was infected at work.”

The state Department of Health on Tuesday also confirmed an ongoing investigation at Liberty Dialysis in Hilo.

The Tribune-Herald received multiple reports that at least five patients there tested positive for COVID-19.

A spokesman for Fresenius Kidney Care and Liberty Dialysis, however, declined to comment, and the DOH said it cannot comment on ongoing investigations.

This comes after a case was reported in an employee earlier this month. It is unknown whether the new cases are associated with the initial case.

The DOH said all affected individuals are being contacted and further information is pending.

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Reporter John Burnett contributed to this story.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-Herald.com.

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