Honolulu: Chantelle Pajarillo had settled into a resort on Hawaii’s famous Waikiki Beach, hoping for a peaceful long weekend away from work and school with her family.
The peaceful part came to an end as soon as she turned on the television set on Friday night and learned that a Japanese couple who had been staying at the same hotel had fallen ill with the coronavirus.
Pajarillo, who lives 25 miles away on another part of the island of Oahu, did not know what room the couple had stayed in, but it did not matter: She requested a stash of disinfecting wipes and started cleaning every surface she could find.
“I wiped down everything I knew they would touch: the sliding door, the refrigerator, countertops and the bathroom,” Pajarillo said on Saturday as she walked back to the pool at the Grand Waikikian, toting a stack of towels. “I’m a germaphobe myself and I have three little kids so I want to make sure I take every precaution.”
Hawaii health officials were working swiftly over the weekend to find anyone who might have had contact with the Japanese couple, who had also visited the island of Maui.
Health authorities said the couple, both in their 60s, was not diagnosed until they returned to Japan, but the husband began showing symptoms while still staying in one of Hawaii’s most popular tourist neighbourhoods.
More than 9 million people visit Hawaii each year, 1 in 3 of whom are international tourists.
Health officials said that there was little chance that the infection had spread, but that they would continue to search for anyone who had prolonged contact with the couple.
There had been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state before the two tourists were diagnosed in Japan.
But at least one local resident said he believed that he had spent time with the Japanese man who was later confirmed with the virus.
The resident, John Fujiwara, 52, said the friend that he had visited with for about half an hour on February 4 had the same travel itinerary as the man described by state health officials; he also lives in the same city and is also in his 60s. Fujiwara said he had not been able to reach his friend since he left Hawaii on February 7.
The man seemed healthy, if a bit tired, when they had met to drink coffee, catch up and exchange chocolates as gifts, Fujiwara said. The man had spent that morning shopping in Chinatown, and had told him that he planned to attend a Japanese language event at a local grocery store immediately after their visit.
Janice Okubo, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii Department of Health, said that the man who was confirmed with the virus “is not believed to have had any prolonged, close contact with Hawaii residents,” but that health officials were continuing to investigate.
Dr. Sarah Park, the state epidemiologist, said the man had most likely been exposed to the virus before leaving Japan or while travelling to Hawaii. He and his wife, who was also confirmed on Saturday with the virus but did not show symptoms while in Hawaii, arrived on Maui on January 28. The man was also symptom-free in Maui, but after the couple moved to Honolulu, on Oahu, on February 3, he began showing signs of a cold.
More than 68,000 people around the world have been infected with the virus and more than 1,650 have died, almost all of them in mainland China, where the outbreak began in the city of Wuhan. In the United States, 15 people have been confirmed with the virus, most of whom have been said to have mild symptoms.