Interview: Maui Health Intensivist Answers COVID-19 Community Questions

July 10, 2020, 11:16 AM HST · Updated July 10, 1:24 PM
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A radio segment featuring executives and doctors with Maui Health runs Thursdays at 7:19 a.m. on KPOA 93.5 FM.  The series provides updates and answers questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week’s guest is Dr. Michael Shea, Intensivist and Immediate Past Chief of Staff at Maui Health.

Q: What is Maui Memorial Medical Center’s current visitor policy?

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A: Right now, Maui Memorial is allowing one visitor for mothers in labor–usually that’s their partner; one visitor for pediatric patients–usually a parent; and one visitor for special needs patients.  In certain other situations, compassionate visitation is being allowed on a a case-by-case basis.  And the reason we are still limiting visitors is out of concern for the safety of our patients and our staff–especially with the increase that we’ve been seeing in cases throughout Hawaiʻi lately. We know that’s frustrating to those who want to visit, but these are extraordinary times.

Q: How many cases are currently hospitalized on Maui?

A: I’m very pleased to report that we do not have any COVID-19 positive patients or even any patients under investigation for coronavirus at Maui Memorial currently (as of July 9, 2020).  We continue to test every patient admitted to the hospital as well as patients who come in for same-day procedures.  I would anticipate that as the numbers in the state increase, we’ll start to see some cases, but right now haven’t.

Q: Why have the Hawaiʻi cases gone up so drastically over the past two weeks?  Is it because of opening up of restrictions, large gatherings, gyms or stores?

A: I think it’s a number of things. The biggest factors for the recent increase seem to be travel from outside the state and large gatherings where people are getting lax about masking and social distancing.  As a reminder, the most effective way to prevent viral spread is to stay home when you can, wear a mask when you are going out, keep your distance of at least six feet from others and wash your hands frequently. Our Kamaʻāina were so successful in this.  We were able to keep our numbers really small; but we understand also it’s very hard to sustain this over a long period of time.  I think this pandemic is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.  We’ve got to pace ourselves and continue to do the things we know have been successful.

Q: Why are we not provided with more information regarding the cases of those who have died from COVID-19 such as their exact age, where they live, whether they were hospitalized, how they became infected and such other questions?

A: The details of everyone’s health record are protected by federal law.  So we share as much information as we can.  The DOH and the CDC are allowed to share some population statistics to help us understand what conditions may make us more susceptible to coronavirus complications.  But unfortunately, we can’t share everything.

Q: Why does the Department of Health count Hawaiʻi residents diagnosed out of state?

A: It’s purely a population statistic issue.  The CDC counts COVID cases based on the individual’s home state.

Q:  A friend, who is a medical professional and normally well informed, said recently to one of our listeners that the COVID 19 virus has not even been isolated yet, and that as a result testing, infections rates and death rates are very inaccurate.  If this true, he would guess that a vaccine is even further out than projected.  Where are scientists in their knowledge of COVID 19?

A: It’s important to understand the surrounding science for this virus is continually advancing.  We’re learning new stuff almost every day.  The virus to my knowledge has been isolated.  In order to address the urgency to have testing and treatments available early in the pandemic, the FDA essentially fast tracked authorization for many tests and treatments, that didn’t have to go through the usual rigorous and time consuming process to get approved.  And now, with more experience, we see that some of those tests and some of those treatments are not as effective as others.  The tests that we are using at Maui Memorial are among the most accurate available.  It’s true that the limited availability of testing early on in the pandemic made it difficult to really accurately report infection rates and death rates, but this has significantly improved.  Regarding vaccines, there are billions of dollars being spent to develop. I know multiple companies are working together.  It’s a race, which is a good thing.  There’s already one that is promising and is being tested on humans in a preliminary study.  But even with that encouraging news, we are probably at least a year at best from having a vaccine readily available to our members of our community.

Dr. Shea is an Intensivist at MMMC and also helps lead the Maui Health EOC (Emergency Operations Center). Guided by employee and community feedback, the MH EOC brings together administration, physicians, nurses and staff to work toward the common goal of reducing and mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic at Maui Health. He along with the EOC team help plan around surges, protocols and testing. He is also the Immediate Past Chief of Staff for the Maui Health Medical Executive Committee.

Previous interviews:

Upcoming interviews: *(Subject to change).

  • Thursday, July 16: Michael Rembis, Chief Executive Officer, Maui Health

*Note: KPOA 93.5 FM is part of the Pacific Media Group family of radio stations.  Pacific Media Group is the parent company of Maui Now.

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