Hilo a virus hot spot

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald Shaina, who declined to give their last name, helps her daughter, Juliana, learn to fish Thursday at Lili‘uokalani Gardens in Hilo amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Most — if not all — of the Big Island’s active COVID-19 cases are in Hilo,

State officials confirmed that as of Wednesday there were 94 active coronavirus cases in Hilo. On Thursday, the state reported there were 96 active cases on the Big Island.

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Active cases are individuals who are in isolation or quarantine after testing positive.

Amid the recent surge of cases in East Hawaii, health care providers continued Thursday to combat the coronavirus threat in their facilities.

Staff and residents at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home underwent a second round of testing Thursday after three employees and seven residents tested positive for the virus earlier in the week.

Those results should be available within the next day or two.

Two of the seven residents with COVID-19 are being treated at Hilo Medical Center, where one is in stable condition and the other is improving, according to Allison Griffiths, a spokeswoman for Avalon Health Care Group, which manages the facility.

The remaining five, isolated in a COVID-19 unit in the veterans home, are in stable condition and most are asymptomatic.

Administrator Doug Taylor said the facility plans to test residents and staff every three or four days, “until everyone is negative.”

An initial round of testing among staff and residents in June produced all negative results.

The first staff member tested positive Aug. 22, following random employee testing conducted Aug. 20. That case was followed by a second on Aug. 23 and the third on Tuesday. Taylor said the employees were maintenance staff members and not involved in the direct care of residents.

It was “a bit of a shock” to receive word of the first positive case, he said, “and then you just put it into overdrive. You just do what it takes.”

“We’re just blessed with wonderful staff that has really picked up the ball and ran with it,” Taylor continued. “(They have) done whatever it takes to get the job done in the best way possible. We’re all dedicated to taking care of the veterans here. That’s our No. 1 priority.”

Cheryl Walters, director of nursing, said within an hour of being notified about the positive case, the Yukio Okutsu team gathered at the facility to start testing.

“We’d be lying if we said we weren’t all nervous about this,” she said. While everyone is “a little shaken up, I’ve never seen a group of people spring into action as quickly as our staff … .”

Walters said administrators have worked to keep residents and their families informed.

She said Yukio Okutsu has been in contact with the state Department of Health since Tuesday and has been able to provide the DOH with the information necessary for contact tracing.

“We are working closely with the staff of the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home to ensure they have everything they need to protect the heroes in their care,” Griffiths said in an email. “As we work to limit the spread in this facility, I want to encourage everyone in the local community to help us by wearing masks and practicing social distancing and proper hand hygiene. Research shows that the rate of spread in a local community is directly tied to the likelihood of spread in long-term care settings, so this is a chance for the community to come together to help protect the veterans in our care.”

Yukio Okutsu has 86 residents and 143 staff members.

In a Facebook post earlier this week, Bay Clinic also confirmed that an employee at its Hilo Family Health Center had tested positive.

Those who met the guidelines for exposure were notified and were being tested. CEO C. Kimo Alameda said Thursday that those tests results have so far been negative.

The DOH also confirmed an ongoing investigation at Liberty Dialysis in Hilo.

While the Tribune-Herald earlier this week received multiple reports that at least five patients had tested positive for the virus, no further information was available Thursday.

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

As of Thursday, Hilo Medical Center had 14 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19, including four in its intensive care unit.

While nearly all its 11 ICU beds are occupied, HMC spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said the hospital has contingency plans in place to increase the number of ICU beds by 12 and the number of regular medical beds by 34, should the need arise.

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HMC’s COVID-19 unit, where those patients are isolated from non-COVID patients, is also expandable.

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

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