Nine COVID-19 cases have been confirmed among construction workers and staff members of the Hawaii State Hospital in Kaneohe, state health officials confirmed Thursday.

Construction on the hospital’s new facility resumed Thursday after being paused for a week while the construction company, Hensel Phelps, could conduct COVID-19 testing of staff and sanitize the project areas, according to Department of Health Spokeswoman Janice Okubo.

Four construction workers and five hospital employees who did not work directly with patients have tested positive for the virus to date.

State Hospital new forensic Building outside.
Construction of Hawaii State Hospital’s new forensic facility was paused when some construction workers tested positive for COVID-19. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“We’re not one big building. These folks worked on the periphery, and we only had one person who worked inside a unit test as positive. None of them stepped into patient areas,” said Hawaii State Hospital Administrator Run Heidelberg.

The health department is conducting contract tracing, and the State Laboratories Division is testing up to 40 people who may have been exposed. As of Thursday, no patients had positive test results.

The hospital barred visitors in March and has conducted training about infection prevention and proper mask wearing, as well as regular temperature checks of staff and patients. There’s also a 30-bed wing on campus that will serve as an isolation unit.

Employees are also restricted from working on more than one unit to avoid cross-contamination.

Heidelberg said these policies have served as a successful “firewall” from the disease.

Edward Mersereau, the health department’s deputy director of behavioral health, said the cases were an inevitability, especially due to the increase of community transmission documented on Oahu.

He said department officials are most concerned about workers accidentally bringing the virus on campus, not the patients, who do not leave the premises but are particularly vulnerable to the disease.

“We have the infection control measures in place to be prepared for this eventuality,” Mersereau said.

The Hawaii State Hospital is the state’s only psychiatric facility for forensic patients, many of whom are deemed by a judge unfit to stand trial. It has long been overcrowded, with the number of court-ordered patients often exceeding its capacity of 202 beds.

The $161 million, 144-bed facility under construction was slated to complete by 2021.

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