Resident with COVID-19 Says: Mayor’s Release on Exposure had Inaccuracies
Bennett Debeer, a Maui resident who met with the Mayor on Thursday, and later tested positive for COVID-19, tells Maui Now that there were inaccuracies in a press release issued by the Mayor’s office on Monday.
“I’m surprised of how the mayor took a situation… and made it look like we were irresponsible,” said Debeer during a phone call on Tuesday morning. He was among three unvaccinated individuals who requested and attended the meeting on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021. Since early August, Debeer has been asking for a town hall from the mayor to address freedoms, and concerns among those who do not agree with current mandates.
“Part of the mayor’s protocol for the meeting was for us, since we are not vaccinated, to have a negative test within the last 48 hours and wear a mask. We all did that,” said Debeer, who obtained his negative results from Minit Medical.
Debeer said he started having symptoms on Friday afternoon that felt like a cold. “I went to sleep, woke up on Saturday and got tested at 1:30 p.m. I didn’t get my callback from Minit Medical until late in the afternoon on Saturday. I don’t have any personal numbers of any of these people that I’m dealing with, so I’m siting there Saturday night and don’t know who to call. The next day is Sunday, I really can’t call anybody; So first thing Monday morning, I called the mayor’s office,” he said. Debeer said in retrospect, he could have emailed, but even then, was unsure if it would reach anyone before Monday morning.
Debeer said he shared the information and expressed that he didn’t know who to call over the weekend, “Then low-and-behold, 8 hours later, the County of Maui releases this statement. It’s like, are you kidding me? What is going on? The first thing I did was contact my two leaders who were in the meeting with me. I asked them if they tested positive and they said ‘no.'”
“Two of the three residents later tested positive–that’s false,” said Debeer, also noting that he tested positive on Saturday, not Friday as indicated in the release. “We are calling the office to correct the record,” said Debeer, noting that within two hours, the information put out by the Mayor’s office was shared on television newscasts. “It’s not right. The people of Hawaiʻi and the people of Maui deserve to have correct statements,” said Debeer.
The Mayor’s office issued a follow up statement this afternoon saying, “The individual who tested positive on Saturday did not immediately inform the Mayor’s office even though he had cellphone numbers of some executive staff members. The infected individual did not contact the Mayor’s office until 10:15 a.m. on Monday. News of his test results came by way of a social media post over the weekend.”
According to the Mayor’s office, Mayor Victorino received information that two of three meeting participants had tested positive for COVID-19. “That information has since been determined to be inaccurate,” a county spokesperson said.
“My office is correcting this error because we value accuracy,” explained Mayor Victorino. “I must also emphasize that no names were mentioned in our announcement.”
Romero said that he and the other individual who attended the meeting did not do a follow up test after Debeer tested positive for COVID-19. “There’s no reason to test if you’re asymptomatic,” said Romero. “False positives are completely unreliable,” he said.
The state Department of Health advises that: “If you have COVID-19 symptoms or have been in close contact with a person with COVID-19, get tested 3-5 days after exposure. You may be infected even if you do not have symptoms.”
Debeer said he also wished more information was shared by the Department of Health during a contact tracing call, which he said lacked information on potential early treatment options.
Paul Romero, another individual who attended the meeting criticized the mayor for insinuating irresponsibility. “His insinuation that we put him and his staff at risk is super bogus… We met with him, masked up, and kept social distancing, and somehow [we got an] illogical, false and paranoid response.” Romero said that for someone to have tested positive after the meeting is a “typical consequence of life right now.” “To deny a town hall based on that is extremely unfair to the community and super unfortunate that Maui could be deprived of it. It’s also poor character for a community leader,” he said.
In his news release on Monday, Mayor Victorino said: “… due to the risk of encouraging in-person group gatherings, I will not be participating in an in-person town hall style meeting, but I will continue to meet virtually with members of our community,” saying he values all points of view.
“We followed the mayor’s protocols to a ‘T’… We were pretty grateful for a meeting,” said Debeer, but said it took a great amount of effort to talk to the mayor.
The mayor concluded saying: “Thankfully, all participating staff members have since received negative COVID-19 test results. Ironically, the infected individual is a shining example that masks do work to prevent the spread of COVID-19. I wish him a speedy and complete recovery from his illness.”
Thursday’s meeting came two days ahead of a Mandate Free Maui march and rally that had failed to gain a permit from the County of Maui due to “late notice and lack of sufficient health and safety protocols in place.”
Romero helped to organize Saturday’s event; however the other two individuals at Thursday’s meeting were there as residents and individuals expressing their freedoms. Romero said he reached out to the Mayor’s office on Tuesday morning, but said he was not provided with a sufficient clarification on why the information was contrary to what he believes to be true.
Debeer continues to push for an in person town hall. “I used to do other rallies, and there’s a need to turn the energy of a protest into something tangible. The tangible part for me is getting the mayor to say yes or no to a town hall. We want to talk to him, to see him, interact in a safe environment,” said Debeer, who suggested it be done on a stage using microphones and a moderator. “Every day down at resorts in south Maui and Kāʻanapali, there’s lūʻaus, weddings, conferences, events, large parties, dancing, singing, no masks, and mingling… There’s no reason why we can’t have a safe in person town hall with 100 people. I would like to have more, but at least 100 people,” saying a virtual event is not enough.
“A lot of people feel at this point in time feel we should just be living our normal lives. If you want to wear a mask and get vaccinated, God bless you; If you don’t want to wear a mask and don’t want to get vaccinated, God bless you too,” said Debeer.
*This post was updated from an earlier version to include followup statements released by the Mayor’s office, which were requested, but received after publication.