Travel and family spread are behind the recent string of COVID-19 cases on Molokai, according to county officials and the state Department of Health.
Seven cases have been reported in late August and early September on Molokai, which prior to August had only seen two cases throughout the pandemic.
“These are different variations of people who have traveled, people who had family over and have spent time on Molokai and other issues,” Mayor Michael Victorino said during a news conference Wednesday.
According to the mayor, seven cases were currently active on Molokai. Victorino said he hadn’t heard of any businesses that had to close or cut services.
“I think they caught these in time not to have it spread into any of the businesses in Kaunakakai or any part of Molokai,” he said.
Maui County Council Vice-Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, who holds the Molokai residency seat, said that the cases had been asymptomatic so far.
“The recent cases have been relatives and work related, and most that I know so far have not experienced symptoms,” she told The Maui News on Wednesday evening.
Until recently, Molokai had only seen a couple of cases in late March and April when two Friendly Market employees caught the virus. A third resident who traveled to Oahu tested positive in August, and a worker at the county Public Works Department baseyard became the fourth case shortly after.
Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said that there was a fifth positive case Sept. 1, a sixth case Saturday, a seventh Sunday and an eighth Tuesday. The department also reclassified one case from Maui to Molokai on Wednesday for a total of nine.
Okubo explained that the case that was reclassified was “a contact of a confirmed case.”
“One of the cases had a history of travel and two of the cases were close contacts of the travel-related case,” Okubo said of the recent cases. “Maui DHO (District Health Office) is continuing to investigate the source of illnesses.”
After some confusion over the positive case numbers — which were attributed to Maui on the Hawaii COVID-19 website over the holiday weekend and later categorized as Molokai cases — Rawlins-Fernandez called for more clarity from the department.
“It would be helpful if Department of Health would break out Molokai’s numbers from Maui’s numbers so that the community has an idea of the spread each day, if there is spread each day,” she said.
On Wednesday, no new cases were reported in Maui County. Oahu tallied 88 new cases, while Hawaii island had 12.
The department also reported three new deaths, all Oahu men with underlying medical conditions. Two were in their 60s and the third was in his 70s. The department added that it was aware of six additional COVID-associated deaths at the Yukio Okutsu Veterans Home in Hilo and was awaiting medical records from the facility to confirm the deaths.
As of Wednesday there had officially been 91 COVID-related deaths, including 78 on Oahu, nine in Maui County, three in Hawaii County and one resident out of state.
Positive cases now total 10,123, including 9,146 on Oahu, 533 in Hawaii County, 360 in Maui County — including nine on Molokai and none on Lanai — and 58 in Kauai County. Twenty-six residents have been diagnosed out of state.
Two cases were removed from Hawaii island due to updated lab information.
With relatively low numbers on the Neighbor Islands, some state lawmakers have called for Gov. David Ige and the mayors to establish a pretesting pilot program for exclusive travel between Neighbor Islands. Victorino said during his news conference Wednesday that the idea is “still early in its discussions.”
“It’s looking good as far as what we’d like to offer and what Kauai and the other Neighbor Islands would like to offer,” he said. “But I’m not at liberty to go into more detail at this juncture, other than to say they are moving along and we should hear something over the next week, week and a half.”
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at [email protected]