Hawaii has officially had its first brush with Covid-19, as state health officials announced Feb. 14 that a Japanese couple who vacationed in the state had been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus after returning home.
State agencies coordinated to retrace the couple's steps in the Aloha State, and precautions have been taken to reduce the chances of the virus spreading. No one currently in the state of Hawaii is suffering from the illness. One person who reportedly spent time with the couple has been ordered to stay in home isolation for two weeks, Hawaii Lt. Governor Josh Green said.
The couple flew from Maui to Oahu on Hawaiian Airlines Feb. 3 and from Honolulu to Nagoya, Japan, on a Feb. 7 Delta Airlines flight. Hawaiian Airlines said it was contacting crew members and passengers on the flight, and Delta issued a statement saying that "we are proactively reaching out to customers who were onboard that flight as well as taking the necessary steps to ensure the safety of our customers and crew."
The man and woman first stayed on Maui from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3, and then finished their stay on Oahu from Feb. 3 to 6, state officials said during a Feb. 14 news conference. The man had no symptoms while on Maui, then developed cold-like symptoms but no fever while on Oahu. While it may be possible to spread the virus before showing symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is far more likely to spread after symptoms begin.
During the news conference, Hawaii director of health Bruce Anderson said it was very likely the man was exposed in Japan before he traveled to Hawaii or in transit coming to Hawaii, and became sick while in Hawaii.
The man wore a mask during his flight back to Japan and during parts of his travel in Hawaii, the Hawaii Department of Health reported. His condition worsened upon returning to Japan, where he sought treatment and eventually was diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. His wife was diagnosed a day later.
"Our focus really is about his whereabouts while he was on Oahu, because that's when he developed symptoms," state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park said.
For their entire time on Oahu, the couple stayed at the Grand Waikikian by Hilton Grand Vacations in Honolulu.
"The wellbeing of Hilton Grand Vacations' guests, owners and HGV team members is our highest priority," property management said in a statement. "We remain diligent in our commitment to provide a safe, hospitable environment for all who visit our properties. ... As a cornerstone of this commitment, we have standard operating procedures in place that we have activated on site. We are actively investigating this case and are working with medical professionals and local authorities."
Several travel advisors specializing in Hawaii said there has been little to no impact on Aloha State travel from the outbreak so far. The current mood among the Hawaii travel industry appears to be one of cautious concern, knowing a cluster of coronavirus cases could mean a direct hit to the state's economic engine.
"Most of my clients are from the U.S. mainland and I haven't seen too much impact, even after the announcement about the one couple," Oahu-based travel advisor Keiko Mori said. "I haven't really heard concerns or questions from my clients, and I feel the state has done a good job of keeping us informed."
China Eastern Airlines suspended the only direct flight from China to Hawaii, a six-times-weekly Shanghai to Honolulu route, on Feb. 3, and there are currently no regularly scheduled flights from mainland China to Hawaii, the Hawaii Tourism Authority announced.
Honolulu International Airport remains one of the Department of Homeland Security's designated airports for accepting travelers from China, deploying enhanced screening procedures and the capacity to quarantine passengers. However, as long as the U.S. public health emergency is in effect, foreign nationals who have recently traveled to China will not be allowed into the U.S., except for immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. U.S. citizens returning from recently visiting China may have to undergo a mandatory quarantine of up to two weeks, along with anyone who is showing symptoms of coronavirus.
The Hawaii Department of Health "has been expecting and preparing for identifying a travel-related case in Hawaii because of the widespread outbreak in China and other areas of the world," Anderson said. "The state is more than ready with aggressive control and prevention measures as we work closely with our medical community and response partners."
Covid-19 has spread throughout the world since the first cases were detected in the central China province of Hubei in December. According to figures released by China's version of CDC on Feb. 18, more than 73,000 people have been infected with the novel coronavirus and at least 1,800 people have died, with the vast majority of cases in mainland China.