No Cases of Coronavirus Confirmed in Hawai‘i

January 29, 2020, 5:29 PM HST (Updated January 29, 2020, 5:33 PM)
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State officials reassured the public that risk to the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is low and, no cases have been confirmed up to this point.

Despite the low risks, the state is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make sure no cases surface. On Wednesday, the Hawai‘i Department of Health held a press conference to discuss the efforts that have been made to protect the public.

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1/29/20 – Press conference on the 2019 Novel Coronavirus outbreak and how the State is preparing for possible cases. State officials discuss the steps being taken to protect Hawaii’s public: Governor David Ige, Health Director Bruce Anderson, State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park, Department of Transportation Airport Division Fire Chief Martinez Jacobs, and Healthcare Association of Hawaii President Hilton Raethel.

Posted by Hawaii State Department of Health on Wednesday, January 29, 2020

“The main thing we wanted to get out is the risk to our community is small,” said Gov. David Ige at the press conference.

The novel coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China and currently there are more than 6,000 cases confirmed in China and at least 17 countries. This includes 132 deaths in China.

There have been at least five cases in the US of people who traveled to Wuhan or other areas in China and no evidence of person-to-person spread of the virus in the US.

“This is a fast moving issue, but this hasn’t stopped us and our partners to prevent the problem from surfacing here,” said Bruce Anderson, DOH Health Director, at the press conference Wednesday.

Anderson said the state and its partners have implemented protocols and provided education materials about the virus so the public can stay informed.

Earlier this week, the CDC advised that people not travel to China if possible.

DOH Epidemiologist Sarah Park said if there were cases to crop up in Hawai‘i the state has the appropriate procedures in place to provide care for the patient and quarantine them. The bottom line, she added, was they are alert and aware on how to protect Hawai‘i.

Park said the best way to lower the risk of coming in contact or contracting the illness is by staying out of Wuhan, China and be educated.

Since the respiratory illness has symptoms similar to the flu, Park advises to get a flu shot.

“If you’re sick don’t travel, don’t go to work, don’t go to school,” Park said. “Stay home. Wash your hands. If you don’t have access to soap and water, use a hand sanitizer.”

Park said there’s still a lot of CDC doesn’t know about the virus. Based on previous forms of the virus and respiratory illnesses, officials are advising people to monitor their health for at least 14 days, starting the day they leave the infected area.

“Based on what we know about the coronavirus we assume while you’re sick, you’re infectious,” Park said. “We don’t know the true incubation period on this new virus.”

The CDC is the only laboratory that can confirm a case. At some point, Park said, they will roll out testing to state labs.

“Unless you hear it from the state or CDC, it is probably a rumor,” Park said of possible cases. “Best thing you can do is check our website and CDC website to stay informed.”

Officials are working to establish ways to identify travelers from the area of concern, Wuhan, China. While there are no direct flights from there, officials have implemented protocols and screenings at two airports.

The china market is less than 1% for Hawaii, said Chris Tatum, CEO and President of Hawaii Tourism Authority. While travelers from China decreased last year, he added, it’s too soon to tell how this outbreak will affect tourism numbers.

Training is currently being done at Daniel K. Inouye Airport in Honolulu and Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport in Keāhole to recognize possible visitors who may be infected with the virus.

Hawai‘i Airports Fire Chief Martinez Jacobs with Hawai‘i Department of Transportation Airports Division said their primary focus is on the Honolulu and Kona airports since they receive international flights. The plan is to eventually expand training to all airports.

The Honolulu airport is one of 20 airports in the nation that is equipped with a quarantine station under federal authority, specifically CDC and Customs and Border Protection.

If someone suspects they are ill with virus, Anderson said, to contact their health care provider.

“don’t run to the emergency room,” he said. “We don’t want to overwhelm our emergency rooms.”

For visitors, Tatum said, all hotels have doctors or someone they can be referred to.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.

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