What You Need to Know About the Coronavirus and Hawai‘i

Hawai‘i is testing people for COVID-19 with two confirmed travel-related coronavirus cases in the islands. This new respiratory virus, first identified in China has killed more than 4,300 and sickened more than 121,000 as it spread into a worldwide pandemic.

This post was first published on January 29, 2020 and updated on March 11, 2020.


An illustration of the coronavirus.
this illustration shows the structure of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-ncov). the spikes around the outside give it the look of a corona, or crown, which gives the virus its name.
illustrations: centers for disease control and prevention


Responding to growing concern over the outbreak of a new virus that started in China and has spread to become a worldwide pandemic, Hawai‘i officials are ramping up testing to determine if the disease has spread beyond two isolated travel-related confirmed cases. And they continue to emphasize what can be done to prevent spread of the disease.


With more than 30 states reporting outbreak clusters, Gov. David Ige says he anticipates that more cases will appear here. He said the initial testing of two dozen suspected cases within a population of more than a million people related to the state's initial inability to test locally, which changed in March. As of March 10, he expects the number of tests to ramp up done by the state as well as private labs that began testing this week. And the state began random surveillance testing of about 200 people weekly who are reporting illness. “It's probably inevitable for the disease to come to Hawai‘i and get established in the community,” Ige said at a news conference March 10 at the state Health Department.


He was joined by state health director Bruce Anderson, epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park, and state lab administrator Edward Desmond. “We are taking the situation very seriously,” Anderson said, and the community testing can help determine if the disease is spreading undetected in communities where individuals are seeking treatment for an illness without realizing they have been exposed.

Ige stressed that the state has been working on the community testing for weeks and believes Hawai‘i is ahead of other states in taking the proactive step. “We continue to hope that it's not present,” Ige said. “But we don't want to close our eyes to the possibility that it is.”


 Park repeated the best way to prevent spread of COVID-19, flu or other illnesses during this anxious time: “If you are ill, don't go to work. If your child is ill, keep them home.”


On February 14, Ige, Anderson and Park emphasized again that the state is coordinating with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, various other government agencies and business groups within the dominant visitor industry. Ige added, “we will continue to be fully engaged and keep you updated as the information becomes available.”


While Hawai‘i remains a crossroads for international travel, the number of visitors from China is small, “less than 1% of our arrivals,” and declining, said Chris Tatum, president and CEO of the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority. There have confirmed cases worldwide in 48 countries.


Anderson said that a Pearl Harbor military base site has been identified as the quarantine location for any travelers designated as high-risk.


Here’s what you need to know:


Anderson says the state recommends against traveling to China at this time. “Various areas in China have been placed under quarantine by the Chinese government and travel within the country is either completely prohibited or significantly curtailed to prevent the spread of this disease,” he said.


Anderson confirmed the CDC is operating its quarantine station at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu. And the federal government announced that Honolulu’s airport has been designated as one of 11 in the U.S. where flights from China will be allowed to land.


President Trump declared a public health emergency, which severely limits flights from China and orders as long as a 14-day quarantine for travelers returning from the Hubei province where the disease is centered.


On Friday, Jan. 31, Hawai‘i transportation officials issued this statement regarding airport concerns: “The state continues to work with federal, county and private partners to plan, prepare and be ready to execute measures implemented by the federal authorities to keep the public safe.”


Park offers these tips:

  • “Stay educated.” She pointed to a patient in Washington state who had traveled to Hubei Province and called health care providers upon recognizing potential symptoms and followed instructions to remain isolated from others.

  • “It’s flu season: get your flu shot.” Even if it won’t prevent the new coronavirus, it can help reduce the burden on the health care system.

  • “If you’re sick, do not travel, do not get on a bus, do not go to work, do not go to school. Stay home please.”

  • Wash your hands. If you don’t have access to soap and water, use hand sanitizer.

  • “Do not rely on social media; do not rely on rumors.”




What are coronaviruses? 

According to the CDC, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses named for the crownlike spikes on their surface. They are common in many species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats and bats. Rarely, these animal coronaviruses can infect people and then spread between people. Human coronaviruses are also common throughout the world and can cause mild to moderate illness such as a common cold. 


Should I buy a mask to protect myself from the virus?

Park says masks are most effective at preventing someone who is ill from spreading illness to others. It’s not advised as a barrier for those who want to avoid getting sick.


I recently traveled to China and now I am feeling sick. What should I do? 

If you have traveled to Wuhan or elsewhere in China in the past 14 days and now feel sick with fever, cough or have difficulty breathing, you should do the following: 

  • Seek medical care right away. Before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel and your symptoms. 

  • Stay home. Except for seeking medical care, avoid contact with others. 

  • Do not travel while sick.

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing. Throw the tissue in the trash.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If no soap and water are available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.


Should I be worried about products imported from China?

There is no evidence that you can become infected with the new disease from a product imported from China. It appears to be related to coronaviruses like Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which do not survive long on surfaces. Instead, they are usually spread from person to person through respiratory droplets.


Are passengers being screened at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport?

CDC and Customs and Border Protection at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (and 19 other U.S. airports) are monitoring for travelers with symptoms compatible with the infection and a travel connection with China. They will refer them to CDC staff for evaluation at the quarantine station located at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. Travelers from China will be given CDC’s Travel Health Notice, with information on what to do if they get sick with certain symptoms within 14 days. 


Where can I find out more information?

For more information, visit the CDC website at cdc.gov. You can also visit the state DOH website at health.hawaii.gov.


Read more stories by Robbie Dingeman