UPDATED 12:40pm, 4/8/20 to include a quote that hospital staff only found out about the 15 COVID-cases when news reports surfaced Wednesday morning.
As many as 15 health care workers at Maui Memorial Hospital have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, Mayor Michael Victorino announced Wednesday morning in a video statement. He said the county was immediately directing all personal protective equipment (PPE) to the hospital’s staff.
“The employees were sent home immediately to self-isolate and plans are moving forward to transport these workers to a quarantine site away from their families,” Victorino said earlier in a news release. He said the county was working closely with health officials to accelerate testing for additional hospital workers Tuesday afternoon.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Wednesday that those workers may have had direct contact with an additional 300-500 people.
Days ago, MauiTime was told by several hospital sources that a small group of nurses and technicians possibly had been exposed to the virus, but were told to continue to work, wear a mask, and take their temperatures during each shift. Maui Memorial was contacted for comment, but never responded.
The sobering news comes within weeks of a public outcry from Maui Memorial health care workers that the hospital’s policy forbidding the use of face masks in hospital “common areas,” such as nurse’s stations, hallways and elevators areas was exposing them to possible infection, or to infecting others. The hospital reversed that policy on March 30.
Hospital staff first learned of the 15 COVID-cases from the news reports Wednesday morning.
“I don’t think workers appreciated finding out that way,” said Rasa Priya Thom, a respiratory therapist at the hospital who said he was speaking as an individual and not in an official capacity. “It creates a lack of trust in our leadership. We’re in this battle together. I was hoping we could have more transparency from the administration.”
Thom said the outbreak was “the very reason why we were pushing to wear masks some time ago. Had the administration acted a week or two earlier, maybe some of this could have been avoided.”
He said he understood that the hospital was following guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control, “but the problem with that is the people who collect data are a step behind what is actually happening.”
Lt. Gov. Josh Green said the new cluster of cases at the hospital “means we must contact test every close contact of those who are positive. This is the only way to stop the virus. We must immediately improve PPE standards as well. Every hospital worker needs to be kept extra safe given their likelihood of contacting a positive patient.”
Green told members of the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 Wednesday that eight of the 15 employees who tested positive were connected to the hospital’s oncology ward.
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