Hawaii cluster report focuses on transmission of COVID-19 among restaurant workers
The Hawaii Department of Health cluster report this week focuses on the spread of the coronavirus among restaurant workers.
Catering workers face greater risks of transmission as they not only interact with the public and kitchen staff, but often work in warm spaces with poor ventilation and limited space, making physical distancing not very practical.
“The risk of transmission is high in work environments where COVID-19 security protocols are not implemented or consistently followed,” officials said in the report.
In April, health officials investigated a cluster of 38 cases associated with a fast food restaurant in Oahu. Initially, 11 out of 35 employees were diagnosed with COVID-19. None had been vaccinated.
The virus then spread to 27 other members of the household, including four who worked at three other fast food restaurants. Health officials have identified two other groups with seven cases at these other restaurants.
None of the employees were hospitalized.
However, restaurant workers were allowed to work with symptoms despite a pre-check requirement, according to the health ministry. Additionally, employees who showed symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and stayed home while sick were allowed to return without testing for the virus, officials said.
Officials last month investigated a cluster of six COVID-19 cases associated with a restaurant in Molokai.
The restaurant closed immediately after the first employee tested positive.
Four of the restaurant’s 35 employees remained positive for SARS-CoV-2, while another developed symptoms but was not tested. Close contact from one of the employees also developed symptoms and tested positive.
None of the employees with COVID-19 had been vaccinated, but none of those infected required hospitalization.
Due to the heat, respect for the mask was low among kitchen workers. Additionally, employees carpooled to work, which increased the risk of transmission, health officials said.
To prevent transmission, they said, restaurant employers should enforce masks and physical distancing, and improve ventilation, especially in small kitchens. They can also educate employees on safer ridesharing practices, including lowering windows, wearing masks, and not eating or drinking in the car.
More importantly, officials said, employers should encourage employees to get the vaccine by offering them paid time off to get the COVID-19 vaccine or other incentives such as gift cards, tickets to events and cash.
“Vaccination can prevent transmission of COVID-19, and vaccination eliminates the post-exposure quarantine requirement,” health officials said in the cluster report. “These two benefits of vaccination can help restaurants and businesses stay open and reduce the negative financial impact on employees and owners.”
The report, released Thursday, reflects the clusters under investigation over the past two weeks.
>> In Oahu, officials are investigating a group at a correctional facility that resulted in 35 cases and two groups of social gatherings that resulted in 44 cases. Two other clusters are in the “other” category, resulting in 44 other cases, also being investigated. The “other” category can include office, retail, and first responders.
>> In Maui County, authorities are investigating two clusters in the construction and industrial sectors with 27 cases, one cluster in an educational setting with 14 cases and one cluster in a restaurant with four cases.
>> In Hawaii County, authorities are investigating a cluster of 89 cases in a correctional facility. The Associated Press today reported that a coronavirus outbreak at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo has reached a total of 99 inmates and 13 staff.