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HOPE Services Hawai‘i employee tests positive for COVID-19

September 12, 2020, 1:28 PM HST
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HOPE Services Hawai‘i has reported its first case of COVID-19, after receiving news that an employee who works at the Kihei Pua family shelter tested positive, officials reported this afternoon.

The employee, who last worked Aug. 27, immediately informed a supervisor upon learning that a family member may have been exposed to the virus. Following HOPE Services protocol the employee has been in isolation since Aug. 30. Although an initial test came back negative, the employee remained in isolation while follow up testing was performed.

Unfortunately, the second test yielded a positive result Thursday afternoon.

Staff, vendors and shelter residents who may have come into close contact with the employee have been notified. Kihei Pua staff and residents were tested last week and received negative results. A second round of targeted testing was performed Thursday at Kihei Pua as well as at five additional shelters in Hilo and Pāhoa including Hale Maluhia, Keolahou, Hale Hanakahi, Ohea House, and Sacred Heart Shelter.

In total, 98 shelter guests and staff were tested Thursday.

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These steps come in addition to earlier precautionary measures including regular communication memos with staff and residents enumerating CDC guidance and agency policy updates; regular mass testing of shelter residents, unsheltered individuals, and staff; restrictions on visitors and volunteers entering shelters; telework being made available whenever possible; increasing temporary shelter capacity by 93 beds at four new sites; the suspension of new shelter guests at eight shelters as of Aug. 30 due to increased community spread; and the reopening of the Hale Hanakahi micro-shelters at the NAS Pool in Hilo September 2 to welcome new shelter guests.

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“I am grateful to my team for their kuleana over the last several months, which I credit for flattening the curve within the HOPE Services ohana for so long,” said CEO Brandee Menino. “As we pray for our colleague’s recovery, I ask that we remember this is a time to show compassion, as well as continued vigilance.”

During a staff meeting Friday, employees were invited to offer input on contingency plans should there be a surge among the houseless community. Tentative discussions included converting an existing shelter into an isolation facility should there be a surge in the houseless community.

Among the suggestions were a request for vacant hotel rooms or vacation rentals for frontline staff to quarantine, should they be exposed to the virus in the line of duty.

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Officials from the Mayor’s Office, Department of Health, and the office of the Governor’s Coordinator on Homelessness, who were present for part of the meeting, shared information on the capacity of local units that can be used for isolation or quarantine, as well as lessons learned from the surge on Oahu.

“What we’ve learned is that our community needs more isolation and quarantine units in order to be better prepared for increased COVID positive surges,” said Menino. “While we hope the virus will be contained quickly, we are preparing for a worst-case scenario, where those who need to isolate outnumber the units HOPE, the County and the Department of Health have. Part of our preparation includes asking for help from those who can provide it.”

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