18 more residents at state veterans home in Hilo test positive for COVID-19

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Cars of people wait in line before testing for COVID-19 in Pahoa on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. Premier Medical Group is traveling around East Hawaii to test different communities this week.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Cameron Pudiquet gets information from a person in line to be tested for COVID-19 in Pahoa on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. Premier Medical Group is traveling around East Hawaii to test different communities this week.

More than half of the residents at Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home have been infected by COVID-19.

Three additional staff members and 18 more residents tested positive for the virus, it was reported Wednesday, bringing the total case counts to 13 and 46, respectively.

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There are about 80 residents at the facility.

The death of a fourth resident, who had underlying health issues, also was reported Wednesday.

“We are heartbroken over this and express our condolences to the family and friends of these residents,” administrators said in an update shared on the facility’s website Wednesday afternoon.

The first COVID-19 cases were reported at the Hilo veterans home last week, and it is thought that the virus entered the facility through an asymptomatic staff member exposed in the community, the website states.

Residents and staff have undergone three rounds of testing so far, and a fourth round is set to take place today.

“We are concerned with the rising numbers at the veterans home and hope they level off and decrease fairly soon,” said Dan Brinkman, East Hawaii Regional CEO, Hawaii Health Systems Corp. “Avalon has taken appropriate steps to cohort the patients. Unfortunately, outbreaks such as these take several weeks to completely resolve.”

The veterans home is an HHSC facility, along with neighboring Hilo Medical Center, but is managed by Avalon Health Care Group.

According to information provided by the hospital, no Yukio Okutsu residents were hospitalized at HMC as of Wednesday afternoon, and 41 residents are currently being cared for in a COVID-designated area at the veterans home.

Eight patients not related to the veterans home outbreak remained hospitalized at HMC on Wednesday, including two in intensive care and six in its COVID-19 unit.

Also Wednesday, four hospital staff members from various departments notified the administration that they tested positive for COVID-19. Those employees are quarantining at home.

HMC spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said the employees were tested in the community, not as part of the hospital’s random surveillance testing.

She declined to identify the departments in which those employees work, but said some were with patients and coworkers.

Upon notification from the COVID-positive staff members, HMC began contact tracing efforts, and those who were deemed appropriate for testing were tested and sent home to quarantine.

“I am not surprised that some of our employees have tested positive for COVID,” Brinkman said. “Our staff and their families make up a large portion of our community, and there has been significant community spread in the past several weeks.”

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Admissions to HMC’s Behavioral Health unit — which were halted after an employee tested positive last week — were scheduled to restart Wednesday.

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

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