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Federal VA team headed to Hilo to help contain COVID-19 outbreak at veterans home

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has mobilized a team of health care professionals to help contain a COVID-19 outbreak at the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hilo.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz earlier this week made an urgent request for assistance from the VA as more cases and deaths were reported at the nursing home.

The first coronavirus-related death at the home was recorded Aug. 29, and an eighth resident died on Monday, while the majority of the home’s 74 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 after an asymptomatic employee is believed to have brought it on-site.

The home’s current death toll is at 10, according to a Hawaii County alert issued this morning.

Schatz had called on the VA to immediately step in, declaring the situation a public health emergency, and saying it was clear to him the home was understaffed and ill-equipped to stop the outbreak on its own.

“More help is on the way,” said Schatz in a news release. “This medical team will be a big help in containing the outbreak happening on the Big Island. My staff and I will continue working with the VA and state and local officials to make sure we are utilizing all the federal help that’s available.”

In addition to conducting an on-site assessment at the home for infection control issues, the VA team will recommend interventions, processes, and procedures to address the outbreak.

The VA team is made up of an infectious disease physician, a facilities engineer who understands environmental air flow and AC systems, an infectious disease nurse specialist with expertise in running COVID-19 units, a safety officer, an industrial hygienist, and a nurse manager.

The veterans home is managed by Avalon Health Care.