Friday, September 11, 2020

Superintendent says DOH took days to respond to Dole positive cases

An office employee has died and others from the school are quarantined

Click here to watch this video on YouTube.

State Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto told state senators Friday the state Department of Health (DOH) took “several days” to respond to Dole Middle School, where an office employee on quarantine for COVID-19 died, while two other employees and a student at the school have tested positive for the coronavirus. 

“Their (DOH’s) response on the cases at Dole have been from several days in length. That’s why I’ve said that we need to, as DOE, take the action steps until DOH responds. I can’t wait for that response,” Kishimoto told members of the state Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 Friday.

View a recording of the session here.

Dole’s principal notified employees about the death via email shortly before 9 p.m. Wednesday. The Hawaii State Department of Education (HIDOE) has refused to approve telework for any Dole teachers, despite the fact that many of them have no students in their classes.

The situation at Dole resulted in the HIDOE requesting a consultation with DOH. A meeting with top HIDOE and DOH officials was held Friday morning, Kishimoto said, “to look at what is happening at that school, what’s happening in the Kalihi region or the area, who are the feeders, what’s happening in the community there. That conversation is now being turned into an action plan specifically for that school.

“We’ll be rolling out a plan with that school, that’s specific to that school and the data and the Department of Health’s risk assessment that they do in that school. We will then share that out with community,” Kishimoto said, noting that the plan was supposed to be released Friday.

“They (DOH) are working with us to redesign some of the protocols, because we do not have what we hope we could have, which is within 24 hours, we need response from DOH,” Kishimoto said. “Otherwise, we need to keep spaces shut down. People have to telework or stay home until they get answers, and that can impact delivery of services and instruction to kids.”

State Sen. Donna Kim (D, Kapalama, Alewa, Kalihi Valley) said, “So DOH has not been responding, even though they’ve said we have all these contract tracers, 200 contract tracers. 

“It’s very troubling and concerning to me, to know that these cases at Dole are not being acted upon quickly or in a timely manner in which they said they were going to be doing this,” Kim added.

Kim also asked Kishimoto, “Was HSTA also informed? I’m hearing they weren’t informed about who was exposed, who was home sick, who was quarantined. And is there a process for that?”

Kishimoto answered: “HSTA was not informed. It was not involving a teacher.”

Kishimoto admitted that with the DOH, ”We don’t have a consistent follow-up or guaranteed follow-up.”

“I’ve been told there is a contact tracing team that they are standing up specifically for the DOE, that I had requested, so that we have a go-to team that can respond in this timeline,” Kishimoto told senators.

State Sen. Michelle Kidani (D, Mililani Town, Waikele, Village Park), who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said, “I have a grave concern for the teachers, employees, and students of Dole Middle School. I don’t know how you put in place your metrics to reopen a school when the metrics to close it have have not been defined,” Kidani said.

“If there are still COVID cases on that campus, and they are not being notified properly, we are in deep kim chee,” Kidani added, “and this is why, when we talk about telework, this would be the opportune time to close down the campus and put people on telework, if that is the case. I’m certainly not assured, and I’m not on the campus, so I can imagine how the teachers are feeling.

“If they haven’t done the contact tracing, how are you assuring the safety of the people on that campus?” Kidani asked.

“We have folks working from home out of precaution not because we had a positive and we also followed the DOH guidance,” Kishimoto said.

“Every case that is suspected or actual on the Dole campus is followed through on with contact tracers. I know they’ve assigned contact tracers and are doing that work,” Kishimoto added.

“Now the CAS is working with the school-based team to roll out a plan today,” she told senators.

“We know we need to respond quickly to that school community. We are equally concerned. We don’t want people to sit around in fear,” Kishimoto said.

Kishimoto told senators that the DOH is still working to come up with pandemic metrics about opening schools and may finalize them Monday.

“I did ask them (state health officials) about the school reopening and closure triggers that we are waiting for in order to make a decision about quarter two instruction,” Kishimoto said. “What are the data points that the Department of Education should use to make decisions about whether we should have more kids on campus or need to have less kids on campus, right? Just like other states have those school reopening and closure triggers.”

“They did meet with us for the third time. It was DOE, charter schools, and private schools that had a group of 28 of us, providing response to them on the model that they’ve created. They looked at several state models,” Kishimoto said.

“Sometime around Monday, it will be done. Sometime later in the week, hopefully it will be released,” Kishimoto told senators.

“We need to be able to say that our decisions are based on very clear metrics that are created by DOH,” she added.

Kim, who represents Kalihi in the Senate, expressed frustration with the Department of Health.

“They knew school was opening. We’ve been raising this. We’ve had meetings with you folks for over a month now. And to say that they’re only going to finish this by Monday is troubling because the urgency. We have a death, another death, and how many more deaths because we’ve not acted urgently,” Kim said.

About HIDOE COVID-19 protocols, Kishimoto said, “While we’re waiting for DOH to notify of us of how they’e going to do the contact tracing and what the results are of that, we collect our own information. We issue our own precautionary letter to the community.”

“There is often a delay between when we’re told about a specific case and the documentation,” she added. 

“It doesn’t matter if we have that documentation or not. We do some initial data collection of who that person was in contact with, what their attendance was at the school, which areas of the schools they went into. We shut down those areas,” Kishimoto said.

“We notify anyone that they were within six feet of space for at least 15 minutes of time. That’s the guidance of DOH. And we give that information to Department of Health for their formal contact tracing. Meanwhile, within 24 hours, we shut that space down, or those spaces that were impacted, send folks home precautionarily, to get tested or to wait for contact tracing from DOH, and we clean that space, whether it’s verified or not,” Kishimoto said.

“We’d rather take the precautions within that first 24 hours of time,” Kishimoto added.