Hawaii’s lieutenant governor, one of the state’s most outspoken officials leading the coronavirus response, is now isolating in his son’s 8-by-9-foot bedroom after testing positive for COVID-19 on Friday.

He plans to continue working remotely. On Saturday morning, Green was taking his dry-erase markers to his whiteboard to update it with the latest coronavirus hospitalization, ventilator use and testing statistics, which he presents via social media videos daily.

Green, the state’s COVID-19 medical liaison who is also an emergency medicine physician, says the only symptom he felt was fatigue on Wednesday after a three-day emergency room shift at Kohala Hospital, and had a little cough on Saturday morning, but he feels fine.

“It was just fatigue, that’s really it,” he said. “I had a little cough this morning and otherwise I don’t really feel differently at all.”

Lt. Gov. Josh Green’s daily video updates posted on Facebook and Instagram include the latest statistics about hospital capacity, ventilator use, testing results and fatality trends. He plans to keep recording the videos during isolation, now that he tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday. Courtesy: Josh Green

The tip-off that he could have been exposed to COVID-19 was when a member of his security detail received positive test results on Friday morning. That colleague felt ill on Tuesday, and stayed home thereafter.

According to Green, when that colleague’s spouse felt ill and initially went to the doctor they weren’t tested, but were prescribed antibiotics. It was after their symptoms persisted that they both got tested and positive COVID-19 results arrived Friday morning.

“The irony is had he never been tested, it’s very unlikely I would have ever tested or known I had COVID,” Green said. “I don’t have any significant symptoms, at least not right now.”

“This is what everyone is dealing with; we’re not special. We’re just a family.” — Lt. Gov. Josh Green

The previous weekend, Green says he and his security team traveled together by plane and in the car from Honolulu to Hawaii island. Following hospital protocol, Green took a COVID-19 test last Wednesday, three days prior to working his shift. It came back negative, and he felt normal the whole weekend he worked at the hospital. That weekend, he didn’t interact with his colleague. He said he strongly believes he was exposed during a car ride, because masks “can’t be perfect.”

“I wore a mask in the car, on the plane, when I was walking to the ER, and in the ER, everywhere. But we were in the car for over an hour, sipping coffee and breathing the same air inside of a car just a couple of feet away from each other,” he said of his colleague.

“It’s one of those few hours that I very likely contracted COVID. The lesson is if you’ve spent significant time with anyone that’s positive, anything more than 15 minutes and less than 6 feet apart, you’re a close contact and you’re at risk.”

Green says most of his staff have already been working remotely, and those he’s interacted with have been contacted, including the people he interacted with over the weekend at Kohala Hospital, and others he saw Friday when visiting KUMU 94.7 radio station.

Kohala Hospital spokeswoman Judy Donovan said the hospital is undergoing a deep clean. The emergency room is usually sanitized twice daily, she said. All 11 patients Dr. Green treated have been contacted for testing.  Seventeen employees and nine patients have been tested so far, and results are pending.

Deputy State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble said the Department of Health’s contact tracers and disease investigators began contact tracing immediately on Friday.

“His team has worked really actively with ours,” she said. “Without speaking to the specific details of his case, we try to look for contacts that may be of particular concern — to assign people from our team to identify people such as exposures that involve air travel, and any other exposures that may involve a workspace environment where multiple people could have been in close contact with each other.”

Capitol with fisheye lens from the second floor.
Several Capitol staffers have been affected by the pandemic since March, including Sen. Clarence Nishihara. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

At the state Capitol, cleaning crews with the Department of Accounting and General Services will sanitize common areas and elevators this weekend, according to Rep. Scott Saiki.

“The lieutenant governor does share common spaces with others at the Capitol, such as the elevator,” he said.

This is not the first time COVID-19 has affected someone who works at the Capitol. In March, Sen. Clarence Nishihara received positive COVID-19 test results, prompting a shutdown of the House of Representatives offices. Another infection confirmed in June led to the closure of the House Majority Research Office. 

“We didn’t know as much about how to handle positive cases as we do today,” Saiki said. “Now we know it can be addressed more surgically, where you don’t have to shut down an entire building, you can go in and pinpoint problem areas.”

The Hawaii State Capitol is closed to the public under the state and county’s shut down order, but a skeleton crew of essential legislative staff still go to the capitol in person.

Green said his staff is quarantining, and so will his family. His wife and two children have no symptoms as of Saturday and plan to get tested on Monday.

“This is what everyone is dealing with; we’re not special,” he said. “We’re just a family.”

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