Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Murky Questions About Coronavirus Outbreak Answered

March 12, 2020, 6:04 PM HST
* Updated March 13, 5:06 PM
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There are a number of questions swirling around the COVID-19 global pandemic, which range from specific health concerns and testing capabilities to food shortages, cruise ship restrictions and public school closures.

Big Island Now spent time Thursday fielding questions from its readership, as well as conjuring inquiries of its own, to which reporters attempted to find answers through research and interviews.

Not every answer is complete, and not every reader may find every answer satisfactory, but COVID-19 is described as a novel coronavirus for a reason — because it’s new and there is much yet to be discovered about the disease that has shuttered professional and collegiate sports leagues and canceled events like the Merrie Monarch Festival.

The bold-faced type below indicates the question asked. The regular type indicates the answer given. Each answer is credited to a particular source.

Q: If a person comes down with COVID-19 and cycles through the infection back to health, what risk are they at, if any, of becoming infected a second time?

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A: There is no evidence we know of that indicates that a person cannot get reinfected. –Department of Health Joint Information Center Media Hotline

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Q: If someone tests positive for COVID-19 and recovers, for how long will they remain contagious?

A: That is unknown at this time. Again, COVID-19 is novel and there is a lot that is unknown. –Department of Health Joint Information Center Media Hotline

Q: Some people in Hawai‘i believe they’ve already suffered through a bout of COVID-19 and have gotten over it. Can they be tested? Would there be a reason to test them? Would a test show if they’d had COVID-19 or if they had since gotten over it?

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A: They should check with their physician to determine if testing is recommended. There is a lot of (unknowns) about COVID-19, especially for the long term, because it is novel. –Department of Health Joint Information Center Media Hotline

Q: It’s generally believed older individuals with chronic respiratory issues face the greatest risk for complications like pneumonia after contracting COVID-19, as well as ultimately dying from an infection. Is a generally healthy person at a greater risk for complications or death if he or she is in the midst of, or has recently recovered from, an acute respiratory condition/infection?

A: You need to check with your physician regarding your particular medical situation. We do know the risk appears to be greater for the elderly and those with chronic illnesses. The best advice is for people to check with their physicians because every case is different. An accurate diagnosis cannot be made through email or through media. –Department of Health Joint Information Center Media Hotline

Q: How can the state say there are no cases of COVID-19 on the Big Island when it doesn’t have the capacity to test all of those who might be ill?

A: The state is saying there are two confirmed cases (as of Thursday). There is sufficient testing capability for those who are ill … through government and private labs in the state. Enhanced surveillance has begun to help detect whether there is community spread. –Department of Health Joint Information Center Media Hotline

(More information on the state’s new enhanced surveillance program to measure community spread can be found here.)

Q: How many COVID-19 tests can Hawai‘i administer in one day?

A: The state has the capacity to test 250 people weekly. –Dr. Edward Desmond, State Lab Director

Q: How many people in Hawai‘i have been tested for COVID-19 so far?

A: As of Thursday, March 12, state labs had conducted 31 tests and returned presumptive positive results for two individuals. –Department of Health Joint Information Center Media Hotline

Q: Will cruise ships be allowed to continue touring the Hawaiian Islands?

A: The state Department of Transportation has said Hawai‘i is absent the authority to place a moratorium on cruise ships visiting local ports, meaning the decision must be handed down by federal authorities. However, State Representatives Amy Perruso and Tina Wildberger on Thursday joined Lieutenant Governor Josh Green and Minority Leader Gene Ward in a bipartisan call for an immediate 60-day moratorium on cruise ships docking in Hawai‘i harbors. –HDOT sources and a Hawai‘i House of Representatives Press Release

Q: Is Hawai‘i on the brink of a recession due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic?

A: It looks like a recession for Hawai‘i, it looks like a recession for the US. As we get into the end of March, things will deteriorate further. How long this goes on, no one knows. One of the worst possible scenarios is we have widespread outbreak in Hawai‘i. –Carl Bonham, Executive Director of Economic Research Organization at University of Hawai‘i (UHERO)

Q: Will shipping routes to and from Hawai‘i be affected?

A: There is no reason to foresee changes to shipping routes or a decrease in supply of goods at this time. –Members of the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness

(More information about the economic impacts specific to Hawai‘i due to the COVID-19 outbreak can be found here.)

Q: Should Hawai‘i residents be concerned about a potential food shortage in the future?

A1: People shouldn’t be concerned over a lack of food. There’s no need to hoard food. That is counter-productive to public health. –Lauren Zirbel, Executive Director of the Hawai‘i Food Industry Association

A2: The public should have confidence in our food supply chains. –Matson shipping officials

Q: Will there be a shortage of availability of toiletries and cleaning supplies? 

Stores are running out of toilet paper and cleaning supplies. Those items have been ordered and there will be an allotment provided to each store that sells such products.

Lauren Zirbel, Executive Director of the Hawai‘i Food Industry Association

Q: Will public schools in Hawai‘i close down?

A: There are currently no plans to close schools or move classes online following spring break. The Department understands that the decision to close schools would be made only after serious consideration due to its far-reaching impacts and tremendous community disruption. If school closures are necessary, they will be part of a coordinated effort with the Governor’s Office and other state, public and private partners under the guidance of the Hawai‘i Department of Health. We will provide as much advance notice as possible so that families can make the necessary plans and preparations.There are numerous factors to consider when it comes to closing schools like serving students with special needs, those without internet connection or devices at home and impacts to our employees. There are also other considerations and closures that need to happen in the event that schools are directed to close (i.e. malls, movie theaters and beaches). –State Department of Education

Q: How will classes be conducted at the UH System of colleges across the state?

A: All classes will move to online-only instruction starting March 23. This will remain the policy until at least April 13, but is subject to change. –UH President David Lassner

(More information can be found about how UH is preparing to go online-only here.)

If you have questions you’d like answered, email them to [email protected] and we will do our best to find those answers and incorporate them into future coverage.

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