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Protecting state from COVID-19 is everyone’s responsibility

As seen in the Maui News..

COVID-19 is here to stay. At least for now.

And, although the hope of a vaccine is out there, it is still not within reach. This is a tough reality, but an important reminder as we collectively hold our breath every day and await the positive case count to be reported. We see the numbers continuing to rise across Hawaii and this is not unexpected — with the relaxation of the “stay-at-home” order, opening of businesses, and elimination of the interisland travel quarantine, we have begun to move about and socialize with one another again. We have also been gathering in increasing numbers to reconnect with family and friends that we have missed after months of isolation.

And, because Hawaii has had relatively low numbers compared to the rest of the country, we have become a bit more casual in our preventative practices and in some cases not wearing a mask at these gatherings, which allows for this insidious virus to spread easily.

COVID-19 can easily spread from person to person, particularly in close contact. It can be transmitted by touching our faces and then touching shared surfaces like door handles, tables, railings, etc. It can survive for hours, and even days in some cases, on these surfaces. It can also be spread in small droplets when sneezing, coughing, singing and even talking.

We have all heard the symptoms it can cause — fever, headache, runny nose, cough, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell, fatigue, sore throat, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, and, in some people, no symptoms at all. The unsettling fact is that approximately 30 percent of people who test positive have no symptoms at all. That means you can feel completely normal and unknowingly spread the virus to your ‘ohana and your community.

The important thing to understand is that you have the ability to stop the spread and the actions you take to do this are simple: wear a mask over your nose and mouth whenever you are outside your home; wash your hands with soap and water as often as you can; use hand sanitizer before and after contact with shared surfaces when out and about, and stay at least 6 feet away from others outside your home. Keep in mind that even a small family of four with two working adults are in contact with multiple people a day — in the office, getting groceries or paying a bill at the bank. Even a routine Sunday family dinner increases potential exposure as the risk of exposure multiples with each additional family member in attendance, which is why gatherings on Maui are now limited to 10 people or less and everyone, even at family gatherings, should be wearing a mask. Our culture is so deeply rooted in family, affection, and aloha, so it may feel uncomfortable and inconvenient, but when you think about the consequences of catching and spreading this virus, it should be an easy decision to follow these simple precautions.

Our goal is to keep everyone safe, healthy, and out of the hospital, and we need your help. Remember that each preventative action you take individually protects your loved ones and the community, which in turn preserves valuable medical resources in our hospital and those across the state.

The sad reality is that some who contract COVID-19 will become sick enough to need hospitalization. This virus could have a dire impact on our vulnerable kupuna and anyone, of any age, with underlying health conditions as we have seen all over the world. Hopefully, by everyone doing their part we can prevent this from occurring, but when medical help is needed, we are ready. The doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, support staff, and leaders of Maui Health System have been preparing for months to take care of our most vulnerable. We have a comprehensive surge plan that addresses the need for more hospital beds, ventilators, personal protective equipment, pharmaceutical supplies, doctors, nurses, and many other critical supplies.

Our hope is we will never have to activate our surge plan, but if necessary, we are ready.

Please help your community and do your part to reduce the risk of spreading this virus. Wear your mask, wash your hands, practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings. We will always be here to care for you should you get sick — from COVID-19 or anything else. This is what we do.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and do your best to protect yourselves and one another and remember: COVID-19 has not gone away.

* Dr. Michael Shea is a Maui Memorial Medical Center ICU physician and Maui Health Emergency Operations Center physician adviser.