A city employee tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, bringing the total number of infected city employees to four. 

A sanitation worker with the Department of Environmental Services had shown up to work on Thursday but decided to get tested the next day after losing his sense of smell and learning that his brother had tested positive. 

The employee, who works out of Halawa, was found to be part of a family cluster, in which his mother, who works for the Parks and Recreation Department, and brother, who does not work for the city, have also tested positive.

Environmental Services Director Lori Kahikina could not confirm whether the employee had been wearing a mask while at work.

Lori Kahikina, Director Department of Environmental Services announces some workers that were COVID-19 positive and in self quarantine.
Lori Kahikina, director of the Department of Environmental Services, said more county workers have tested COVID-19 positive and are in quarantine. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

State Health Director Bruce Anderson has said that previous clusters of infections were a result of people not wearing masks while at gatherings. Hawaii hit its highest number of daily cases yet Tuesday with 41 new cases, bringing the total to 1,071.

Kahikina said that before the mayor mandated the use of masks, employees doing sanitation work were strongly encouraged to wear disposable masks, but many did not. 

After receiving his test results, the employee began notifying his coworkers but did not notify the administration until Sunday evening. 

“If he knew Saturday, then it would have been nice to have told us Saturday,” Kahikina said at a press conference. “Because once he started telling his coworkers, it spread like wildfire.”

Kahikina said once the department found out about the employee, Dr. Jill Omori, the city infectious disease officer, was brought in to provide guidance to the department. She also conducted contact tracing amongst six of the infected employee’s co-workers. 

Any co-workers who were in close contact with the infected employee will not be tested by the city unless they display symptoms but will be allowed to use administrative leave while they quarantine. Two of the crew members still attempted to get tested by their personal physicians but were denied tests due to lack of symptoms. 

“If you’re asymptomatic and you get tested, it’s very possible that you could get a false negative and then you’re under the impression that you’re good to work,” Kahikina said. 

The employee also attended a training class with several other employees, Kahikina said, but the class maintained social distancing between participants so no other employees will be tested.

Kahikina said that since the employee got tested on Friday, she suspects there was little chance he left quarantine over the weekend, but she could not confirm that. 

This week Kahikina addressed the members of the employee’s department and reiterated the importance of wearing masks, sanitation and other guidelines for preventing transmission. 

“Last March the goal was prevention, but now employees need to be more vigilant,” Kahikina said. 

The other two city worker who tested positive included a driver for TheBus in June and a Summer Fun manager in Waipahu last weekend.

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