Seven cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Hawaii public housing, Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson said at a press conference Wednesday.

Hawaii reported three newly confirmed coronavirus cases on Wednesday, and all three “are part of a cluster of cases in one family,” Anderson announced.

“One is an adult and the other two are children in this family,” he said. “We have a total of seven cases associated with this extended family situation.”

Anderson told reporters that the housing complex is relatively crowded and many residents don’t speak English as a first language, requiring the department to employ interpreters.

“This is not an intractable situation, but a very difficult one to work with, one of our most challenging situations I’ve run into since we started this outbreak,” he said.

The head of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority said the agency has created quarantine units in every public housing complex. 

Anderson said the first cases were identified “at least a couple of weeks ago.”

Hakim Ouansafi, executive director of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, told Civil Beat he was informed of a single confirmed case in Kalihi Valley Homes on Monday.

Two weeks ago, Ouansafi said, the two agencies were only discussing coordination and outreach.

Ouansafi said Anderson called him after Wednesday’s press conference to confirm that more than one person within a single family has been infected with the virus.

“It was very positive and he seemed very helpful,” Ouansafi said of the call, adding that these are the only confirmed cases he is aware of in public housing.

After learning about one confirmed case on Monday, Public Housing Authority staff went to each unit in the complex Wednesday to inform them of the situation and provide them with additional masks, Ouansafi said. He said that the agency had already provided every household with masks as a precaution.

He noted that the units are often home to large families.

“All of the households there are three-bedroom, four-bedroom, five-bedroom so it’s not unusual that a family has five, six, seven, eight people,” Ouansafi said.

“In these conditions, it’s particularly difficult with the crowded conditions to isolate individuals,” Anderson said at Wednesday’s press conference.

Quarantine Units Available

Ouansafi said the agency has three empty units in Kalihi Valley Homes available to help quarantine people who are sick with COVID-19. He is waiting to hear from the Department of Health about whether they are needed.

Each public housing complex has units designated for COVID-19 quarantine, the executive director said, adding that the agency also has interpreters and translators standing by.

Ouansafi said that the Health Department had planned to conduct outreach at the public housing complex this week but it was pushed back twice and now is scheduled for next week.

The health department is conducting more testing at Kalihi Valley Homes this week and Ouansafi said the housing authority sent flyers to residents earlier this year letting them know that free COVID-19 testing is available.

In the past few weeks, the housing authority has been addressing the outbreak by lowering rent for people who lost their jobs, readying vacant units for potential quarantine and changing rules to ensure that the agency can operate electronically.

Evictions are largely suspended, and the housing authority recently unveiled a new website with information about COVID-19.

“I wanted zero cases in public housing but it’s impossible,” Ouansafi said. “Now our concentration is on Kalihi Valley Homes to make sure that it’s limited.”

Here’s the letter HPHA gave residents Wednesday:

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