The COVID report highlights cluster threat amongst Hawaiian meals service staff and eating places

This week’s cluster report from the Hawaiian Department of Health focuses on COVID-19 outbreaks in a restaurant chain, as well as one caused by a delivery of food by an infected person and a gathering at a karaoke bar.

Health officials say the risk among hospitality and restaurant employees has increased due to the highly transmissible Delta variant – which is now responsible for almost all COVID cases in Hawaii – combined with the tendency towards small and poorly ventilated work environments and low vaccination rates among employees.

In July and August, health officials examined two clusters of 40 coronavirus cases at a large chain of restaurants on Oahu – one in a tourist area and the other in a community with low vaccination rates.

In one of the 29 exposed employees, 24 tested positive for COVID. On the other hand, 12 of 24 exposed employees tested positive.

Most employees were unvaccinated, but eight of the employees who tested positive were fully vaccinated. Another four cases were passed on to unvaccinated household members by staff.

In August, a COVID-infected grocer made a delivery at a restaurant on Oahu. Five out of 21 restaurant employees have become infected. Two of them were vaccinated or had breakthrough cases. A household member of an employee also became infected.

Officials said this restaurant has tight work spaces and poor ventilation, which likely contributed to the spread of COVID-19.

But even those who are fully vaccinated should take precautions, which is the cautionary story of an outbreak among 12 vaccinated food service workers who met at a karaoke bar.

Also in August, 12 fully vaccinated employees sang together in what is considered a high risk activity karaoke bar, with no masks or social distancing. Seven tested positive.

“Vaccination reduces the risk of getting infected and spreading COVID-19 to others, but it doesn’t eliminate it,” officials said in the report. “Everyone should take precautions to prevent COVID-19, including masking in public places indoors.”

Starting September 13, Honolulu County’s Safe Access Oahu Program will come into effect, requiring or providing proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 from all employees, contractors, and volunteers of places such as restaurants, bars, gyms, and museums, and their patrons a negative test.

Officials said these guidelines would help protect the community, but employers should also encourage and incentivize all employees to get vaccinated.

“High vaccination rates make workplaces and communities healthier and safer for everyone,” officials said.

The Hawaii Restaurant Association, meanwhile, is collecting testimony from members about the program’s negative impact on restaurants.

In total, officials are actively investigating a record high of 70 clusters in all four major counties with more than 1,300 coronavirus cases. Most of them are on Oahu and Maui.

>> On Oahu, officials are investigating 18 clusters with 480 cases, including two in prisons with 276 cases, five in restaurants with 74 cases, four at grocery stores with 52 cases, four in educational institutions with 35 cases and a social gathering that led to 13 among others Cases.

>> In Maui County, officials are investigating 44 clusters with 461 cases, including one in correctional facility with 122 cases, 10 in educational institutions with 92 cases, 12 in the Travel, Accommodation and Tourism category with 90 cases, eight in restaurants with 31 cases, two for food suppliers with 24 cases and seven in the “Other” category with 73 cases, including in the construction and professional environment.

>> In Hawaii County, officials are only investigating one cluster in the correctional facility with 296 cases. The same cluster can be included in multiple reports from week to week if a new case is identified within 14 days of the final report.

>> In Kauai County, officials are investigating one prison cluster with 87 cases, one restaurant cluster with 17 cases, two social gathering clusters with 18 cases, one construction and industrial cluster with eight cases, and another professional cluster with four Cases, and a place of worship cluster with three cases.

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