Image courtesy US State Department

[Note: For the latest on COVID-19, visit the links listed at the bottom of this story.]

Local concerns over COVID-19 (also known as coronavirus) increased last week when it was determined that the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship, which had been quarantined off the shore of San Francisco due to detection of the virus, docked in Maui, with passengers disembarking to tour the island. However, the specific activity of those who tested positive from the cruise ship has not been made available to the public.

According to the State Department of Health, there are two confirmed cases of the virus in the state, both on O‘ahu. As of the time of publishing, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maui County. The Center for Disease Control reports 1,629 total cases across the country, with the highest concentration of confirmed cases in the states of Washington, California, and New York. The New York Times, which draws from state and local health agencies, hospitals, and the CDC, reports 1,875 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The CDC and NYT report 41 deaths from the virus nationally.

Information about testing has also been mixed, with President Trump stating there are enough tests for anyone who wants them, while the vice president has said there are not enough tests to meet the demand. In Hawai‘i, the CDC confirms there is testing available in the state.

The County of Maui is urging anyone with flu-like symptoms to stay home. On Tuesday, Italy instituted a lockdown of the entire country until April 3 due to the spread of COVID-19. Public gatherings and sporting events are suspended, and people in the country of 60 million have been told not to travel other than for work or emergencies. Mortgage payments in the country have also been postponed to soften economic impacts. 

While there are no confirmed cases in Maui County, all county departments and personnel have taken precautions and increased sanitation efforts. “Our County departments have tripled their efforts to keep our facilities and public transportation services sanitized for the health and safety of our community,” said Mayor Michael Victorino. “Our directors have taken a comprehensive inventory and ordered additional resources, in the event they are needed.”

The Maui Bus fixed route, commuter, and paratransit services, as well as human service transportation buses, will be disinfected multiple times per day, according to the Mayor’s Office. Filters for air conditioners will also be replaced more frequently. High-touch surfaces in county facilities, such as elevator buttons, door handles, and handrails, are also being sanitized.

According to the state Department of Transportation, Kahului Airport officials have tripled their orders of sanitation materials and posted informational fliers throughout the airport, including restrooms and terminals. Additional hand sanitizing dispensers have been installed for workers and those traveling through the airport as well. The airport also hired a safety management system manager and has been working with restaurants and other vendors to increase cleaning efforts.

Mayor Victorino said the County of Maui is also encouraging all residents, especially older adults and those with serious chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease, to take extra precautions to help ensure their protection from COVID-19. The CDC recommends that these higher-risk populations avoid crowds as much as possible and keep space between themselves and others.

The CDC also advises taking everyday preventive actions, such as washing hands often; avoiding touching your face, nose, and eyes; avoiding contact with high-touch surfaces like elevator buttons, door handles, handrails, and other people’s hands; and using a tissue or sleeve to cover a hand or finger if you must touch something.

It is also recommended that businesses consider implementing sick leave policies that are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees – and families – are aware of these policies.

The following information was released for employers but it applies to all organizations: Those who arrive to work sick or become sick during the day should be separated from others and sent them home immediately; place posters that encourage staying home when sick, good cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene in visible workplace areas; provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles; provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs; place hand rubs in multiple locations or in conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene; routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace; and ensure employees who become sick understand that they should notify their supervisor and should promptly call a healthcare provider for advice if needed.

The county urges local businesses to review the CDC’s website for information and guidance on protecting employees and others, as well as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards and guidelines.

For those at a higher risk of getting sick, the CDC also recommends contacting a healthcare provider to ask about obtaining extra necessary medications. If you cannot get extra medications, consider registering for mail-order medications. CDC also recommends high-risk individuals keep over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies on hand to treat fever and other symptoms if they arise.

If you do get sick, the CDC recommends to stay home and call your doctor to let them know about your symptoms. Emergency warning signs could include: difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, and bluish lips or face. The CDC recommends employers become proactive in containing the virus by encouraging sick employees to stay home and not come to work until they are free of fever and any other symptoms for at least 24 hours.

Most people will be able to recover from COVID-19 without going to the hospital, according to the CDC, but it is important to have enough household items and groceries on hand to be prepared to stay at home for at least 14 days. (Still, the public is discouraged from hoarding supplies.) The County of Maui receives daily status updates from the State DOH for guidance and coordinated response to the coronavirus. The Emergency Operations Center, which was activated last week, continues to host video teleconference calls for the county’s department personnel and agency partners with the Governor’s Office, State Department of Health, and statewide emergency management agencies.

The recently signed federal $8.3-billion coronavirus aid package allows for billions of dollars in low-interest US Small Business Administration (SBA) loans nationwide, according to the mayor. 

“We are currently looking at ways in which the county can assist our local businesses dealing with impacts from the coronavirus,” Victorino said. “As soon as we become aware of more information and help from the state and federal government, we will be passing this support to our small businesses.”

Employers and businesses can review Hawai‘i’s state plan standards by visiting Osha.gov/stateplans/hi. To review the CDC’s interim guidance for businesses, visit Cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html.

General information and resources on COVID-19 can be found on the County’s website at Mauicounty.gov. For primary sources of information and updates, visit the State DOH website at Health.hawaii.gov and CDC website at Cdc.gov/.

Suzanne Kayian is a Maui-based writer, public relations specialist and social media zealot. With more than 20 years experience, Suzanne has contributed to a variety of publications ranging from local independent...

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