The Hawaii Cluster report focuses on the transmission of COVID-19 amongst restaurant employees
This week’s Hawaii Department of Health cluster report focuses on the spread of the coronavirus among restaurant workers.
Restaurant workers are at greater risk of transmission because they not only interact with the public and kitchen staff, but often work in hot rooms with poor ventilation and limited space, making physical distancing impractical.
“The risk of transmission is high in work environments where COVID-19 security protocols are not implemented or consistently followed,” officials said in the report.
In April, health officials investigated a group of 38 cases related to a fast food restaurant on Oahu. Initially 11 of 35 employees were diagnosed with COVID-19. Nobody had been vaccinated.
The virus then spread to another 27 household members, including four who worked in three other fast food restaurants. Health officials identified two more clusters with seven cases in these other restaurants.
None of the employees were hospitalized.
However, the restaurant employees were allowed to work with symptoms despite a prior inspection obligation, according to the health department. In addition, employees who had symptoms related to COVID-19 and who stayed home if sick were allowed to return without being tested for the virus, officials said.
Last month, officials investigated a cluster of six COVID-19 cases related to a restaurant on Molokai.
The restaurant closed immediately after the first employee tested positive.
Four of the restaurant’s 35 employees recovered positive for SARS-CoV-2 while another developed symptoms but was not tested. Close contact with one of the employees also developed symptoms and tested positive.
None of the employees with COVID-19 had been vaccinated, but none of the infected had to be hospitalized.
Due to the heat, compliance with the mask requirement for the kitchen workers was low. In addition, employees carpooled to work, which increased the risk of transmission, health authorities said.
To prevent transmission, employers in restaurants should enforce the use of masks and physical distancing, and improve ventilation, especially in small kitchens. You can also educate employees about safer carpooling, including shutting down windows, wearing masks, and not eating or drinking in the car.
Most importantly, officials said, employers should encourage their employees to get vaccinated by offering paid time off to get the COVID-19 vaccine or other incentives like gift cards, event tickets and cash.
“Vaccination can prevent the transmission of COVID-19, and vaccination removes the quarantine requirement after exposure,” health officials said in the cluster report. “These two vaccinations can help restaurants and businesses stay open and reduce the negative financial impact on employees and owners.”
The report released on Thursday reflects the clusters that have been studied over the past two weeks.
>> On Oahu, officials are investigating a prison cluster with 35 cases and two clusters of social gatherings with 44 cases. Another two clusters fall into the “Other” category, resulting in a further 44 cases. The “Other” category can include offices, retail stores, and first responders.
>> In Maui County, officials are investigating two construction and industrial clusters with 27 cases, one cluster in an education area with 14 cases, and one cluster in a restaurant with four cases.
>> In Hawaii County, officials are investigating a cluster of 89 cases in a correctional facility. The Associated Press reported today that a coronavirus outbreak at the Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo has grown to a total of 99 inmates and 13 staff.