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 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 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 husband and wife, both in their 60s, were not diagnosed until they returned to Japan, but the husband began showing symptoms while still staying in one of Hawaii’s most popular tourist neighborhoods.
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 Feb. 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 Feb. 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.
Fujiwara said that he had reached out to state health officials, and had offered to isolate himself after reading a report about the man in The Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
In an email he shared with The New York Times, a disease intervention specialist with the Hawaii Department of Health did not confirm that Fujiwara’s friend was the one who had been diagnosed, but told him that he should contact the department if he had any symptoms before Tuesday, which would be two weeks after he saw his friend — the maximum incubation period for coronavirus.
“I plan to go to dinner with my girlfriend tonight, unless things change, specifically because I have it in writing from the state of Hawaii Department of Health to continue my daily routine,” Fujiwara said.
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 traveling to Hawaii. He and his wife, who was also confirmed Saturday with the virus but did not show symptoms while in Hawaii, arrived on Maui on Jan. 28. The man was also symptom-free in Maui, but after the couple moved to Honolulu, on Oahu, on Feb. 3, he began showing signs of a cold.
A spokeswoman for Hilton Grand Vacations, which runs the hotel and timeshare where the couple stayed in Waikiki, said the company was working with health officials. A letter slipped under the door of vacationers’ rooms provided tips on how to keep from getting the virus, washing hands being chief among them.
The man who became ill wore a mask when he was outside and while on the flight back to Japan, officials said, and was diagnosed with pneumonia, and later with coronavirus, after returning to the couple’s home in Nagoya, Japan’s fourth-largest city.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that it may be possible to transmit the virus before showing signs of the illness, but that a person is much more likely to spread it when they have symptoms.
Aubree Gordon, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, said she agreed with Hawaiian health officials that people who had traveled with the man were at greatest risk, though anyone who touched surfaces shortly after he did — such as a faucet or toilet handle — could also be at risk.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of cases like this popping up, where people come into a place and get diagnosed there, or leave and we find out after the fact that they’re sick,” Gordon said.
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.