Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Number of Veterans Test Positive for COVID at Hilo VA Home

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Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo is currently in outbreak mode as six residents and a number of staff have tested positive for COVID-19.

This is the first time the virus has been detected among VA residents since the fatal outbreak during the Delta variant in the summer of 2020 where 27 veterans succumbed to COVID, Hilo Medical Center spokeswoman Elena Cabatu confirmed to Big Island Now on Tuesday.

Wrongful death lawsuits were filed against Utah-based company Avalon Health Care Group, which was managing the home at the time, by families who lost loved ones in the 2020 outbreak.

Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home. Website photo.

There are approximately 60 veterans in the VA home at this time. The strain that has hit the facility this time around is the Omicron BA.2 subvariant. While Yukio is in outbreak mode, Cabatu said the connotation is a little heavier than the reality.

“What happened a few years ago was tragic and our staff weathered that and healed from that,” Cabatu said. “We’re not seeing evidence that this variant is as severe as the Delta and that’s hopeful for us.”

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Cabatu said nearly all of the current patients have been vaccinated and boosted. One of them went to HMC for treatment but will be returning to Yukio.

“They’re all doing OK,” she said. “They seem to be weathering it nicely,” adding, that the staff is hopeful for a speedy recovery.

From time to time, Cabatu said, the facility is in outbreak mode depending on the COVID case count reflected in the community. Currently, health care workers have been addressing a surge in cases related to the Omicron sub-variant.

As of Tuesday, there are three staff members out with COVID.

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In outbreak mode, Cabatu said, everyone in the facility is required to wear an N95 mask as well as a face shield. High-frequency cleaning is occurring in common areas every couple of hours and health care workers are holding virtual meetings.

The infected residents are isolated to a COVID unit and have a dedicated staff that does not interact with the rest of the residents or employees in the facility.

Testing is mandated twice weekly, however, there are tests readily available to anyone who’d like to test. Cabatu said everyone must test negative for 14 days to exit outbreak mode.

While visitations to Yukio are not restricted, staff is advising against them.

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The Hawai‘i Health Systems Corporation, or HHSC, took over management in January 2021 and implemented best practices to avoid another deadly outbreak.

The home is operated under the newly created nonprofit East Hawai‘i State Veterans Home, which is governed by HHSC.

Cabatu said there was a restructuring of the hierarchy at HHSC’s long-term care facilities. Temperature checks and travel screenings were implemented at the entrance of all the homes including Yukio. Personal Protective Equipment required to enter facilities includes a mask and face shield, which are provided.

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.
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