Overcrowded prisons and poorly ventilated restaurant kitchens fuel Hawaii pandemic


The bulk of Hawaii’s coronavirus clusters rage in island prisons and prisons.

The state’s latest cluster report released Thursday said correctional facility cases accounted for 100% of all cluster investigations in the past two weeks on the Big Island. Covid-19 cases in prisons and prisons also accounted for 63% of all cluster investigations in Kauai County; 57% on Oahu and 31% in Maui.

Covid is also spreading in restaurants and bars, with the report highlighting how poor ventilation facilitates transmission between staff at these establishments. The state encouraged workers to follow federal guidelines to avoid poorly ventilated spaces, but did not specify how restaurant workers are supposed to do it if they must work in such spaces.

Covid is a respiratory illness that spreads more easily in crowded indoor conditions like restaurant kitchens, but the state and city have not imposed any ventilation requirements on businesses since the pandemic.

Many hospitals, including Queen’s Medical Center in West Oahu, have set up overflow tents to cope with the high number of patients as Covid cases increase. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2021

Thursday’s report comes at a critical time in the Hawaii pandemic. Hospitals are overcrowded, and the highly contagious delta variant accounts for virtually all cases statewide.

The cluster reports do not take into account each case but rather summarize the groups of infections that the state has examined in the last 14 days.

The Department of Health does not usually specify the locations of Covid clusters, only broad categories. Officials have previously said confidentiality helps investigations, and they don’t think specifying places where transmission occurs will be helpful as people who get sick in one place spread throughout the community.

The Department of Health called a Maui church by name earlier this year, saying it must do so to avoid an imminent risk of further transmission.

Maui County was the only part of the state where other cluster types were relatively large enough that correctional facility cases did not constitute the majority of cluster cases investigated during of the last 14 days.

State investigators looked at 10 clusters of 92 cases at educational institutions there, as well as 12 clusters of 90 cases among workers in the travel and hospitality industry in Maui County, which has the lowest vaccination rate in the state.

The state pointed out that the spread of the community among unvaccinated people is the root cause of the pandemic in Hawaii right now, and previously said tourists accounted for 1% to 2% of coronavirus cases. But the state has also recognized some tourism-related risks – Thursday’s cluster report described a restaurant in a “tourist area” as “high risk,” and Governor David Ige discouraged tourists from traveling to Hawaii. , a few of whom were arrested. for false vaccination records.

As of August 26, 93% of Covid cases in Hawaii since January have been in unvaccinated people, compared to 7% among vaccinated people.

Poor ventilation fuels the spread of the virus

In Oahu, restaurants were the second source of coronavirus clusters. The state noted that restaurant clusters are largely made up of employees.

“The risk of contracting COVID-19 for catering workers has increased with the increased transmissibility of the delta variant combined with risk factors related to the work environment, including small work areas, poor ventilation and poor ventilation. low immunization coverage ”, indicates the cluster report.

Poor ventilation is mentioned three times in the cluster summary, including in the description of a cluster of seven people at a restaurant where five of the 21 employees caught the virus.

“The restaurant has tight workspaces with poor ventilation, which likely contributed to the spread of COVID-19,” the report said. “The restaurant closed for almost a week, which had a negative financial impact on the owner and the employees.”

The report urges restaurant workers to “get vaccinated, stay home when sick, avoid poorly ventilated work spaces, wear masks, practice physical distance when possible (less than six feet) and avoid group events ”in accordance with federal guidelines.

But the Department of Health hasn’t said exactly how restaurant workers are supposed to avoid poorly ventilated workspaces if that’s where they have to show up every day. Most people have returned to work since the shutdown last year, and restaurant workers are a key part of Hawaii’s economic recovery.

In response to a request on whether the Department of Health would support ventilation requirements for restaurants, department spokesman Brooks Baehr said the agency recommends restaurants and businesses improve ventilation by opening windows and doors and using fans. A survey of Governor David Ige has been referred to the Department of Health.

Bill Kunstman, spokesperson for the state’s unemployment insurance program, said workers who quit due to unsafe working conditions, such as poor ventilation, can receive unemployment checks, but it depends facts of each situation.

“It’s on a case-by-case basis,” he says. “It’s like a $ 64,000 question across the country.”

Revolutionary cases

Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s administration did not respond to an investigation into whether the mayor was considering ventilation requirements. But Blangiardi has imposed a requirement that from September 13, employees and customers of restaurants and many other establishments must show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test, with several exceptions.

Officials hope this will increase vaccination rates, which could help stem cases among food service workers.

In one restaurant, 24 of 29 employees tested positive. Another restaurant reported that half of its 24 employees had tested positive. Both had low vaccination rates among employees, according to the employer at both establishments. Almost 80% of those cases were in unvaccinated people, according to the report.

Hospitalizations and deaths are also much more likely to affect people who have not received vaccines aimed at boosting immunity against the virus.

Still, the agency notes that people who have been vaccinated can transmit the virus.

In one case, a group of food service workers who were all vaccinated went to a karaoke bar, where they were not wearing masks and keeping safe distances from each other. Seven of the 12 have caught the Covid.

“Vaccination reduces but does not eliminate the risk of becoming infected and transmitting COVID-19 to others,” the report said. “Everyone should take precautions to prevent COVID-19, including masking in indoor public places. “

But vaccination protects against hospitalization and death for the vast majority of people, according to state data.

“Of the 2,419 cases involving fully vaccinated people, 68, or 3%, were hospitalized; 8, or 0.3%, died of complications from COVID-19, ”Baehr said.

He said none of the vaccinated people in that karaoke group had been hospitalized or died.

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