HILO, Hawaii (KHON2) — The death toll at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home now stands at 25. To date, 70 residents and 34 employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Five residents are hospitalized. While the Veterans Home tried to make changes to address the situation, the state says it did not incorporate some best practices.

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We are told the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency’s (HiEMA) role was to support the Veterans Home and assess what changes and improvements can be made to better control the spread of the virus. HiEMA’s report lists 16 areas of concern. The biggest is why staff are still turning positive with each mass testing. Two more employees tested positive for COVID this week, which makes the total 34 as of Sept. 22. 25 employees have recovered so far.

“And so what it suggests is that there is still transmission happening within the facility. Of course, we don’t know that with 100% certainty, because there is some, you know, circulation of disease in the community,” said Dr. Steven Hankins, SESF-8 Lead Coordinator at HiEMA.

So what about the residents who have not tested positive? Are they safe? Dr. Hankins says it is important to note that even if a test result is negative, the person could still be incubating the virus.

“So we have to recognize that if we were to move anybody out of the facility, we would be taking a real risk of spreading infection into any other facility that they might go to,” he said.

Avalon, which manages the facility, tells us since the earliest days of the pandemic, all recommendations and protocols were put in place. The company says a COVID-19-focused Infection Control Survey was also done in June by the Department of Health (DOH).

“As you will see, the facility was in full compliance with infection control guidelines. In fact, the surveyor complimented the facility for its diligence,” said company spokesperson Allison Griffiths.

The DOH made an unannounced inspection earlier this month at the facility. A new report is expected to be released soon.

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