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COVID-19 has reached every United States county

COVID-19 has reached every United States county
© Pa’oneakai Lee-Namaka’eha/National Parks Service

COVID-19 appears to have reached every county in the United States throughout the course of 2020, according to an analysis from The Wall Street Journal released on Friday.

The last known county impacted by the virus was an isolated Hawaii enclave that was established more than a century ago for patients with leprosy, now known as Hansen’s disease.

In early December, Hawaii health officials reported the first and only known positive case of COVID-19 in an adult resident of the Kalaupapa Settlement in Kalawao County on the island of Moloka‘i.

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The resident tested positive after returning on a local flight, ending the county’s run as a virus-free location. However, the individual and all recent close contacts immediately went into self-isolation and no one has reported any symptoms.

“The individual who tested positive did the right thing in notifying us of the positive test result,” said Ken Seamon, the state’s health administrator for the settlement. “We believe we can contain the virus here without a stay-at-home order for the entire settlement.”

Kalaupapa Settlement was established in 1865 as a location where anyone with Hansen’s disease could move if they had been forced into exile for life, according to the National Parks Service.

The peninsula was chosen for being remote and fairly inaccessible, surrounded by cliffs to the south and ocean to the east, north and west.

Medications to cure Hansen's disease were introduced into Hawaii in 1946, vastly improving the quality of life for patients with the disease. The century-old policy of forced quarantine was eventually abolished in Hawaii in 1969, though many former patients living in Kalaupapa have chosen to remain there.

Today, fewer than 100 residents live in Kalawao County including 12 survivors, health workers and employees for the National Park Service.

Residents must take a rare plane, hike down 1,600-foot cliffs or take a three-mile trek by mule to reach the single town. The Wall Street Journal reported that the settlement relies on yearly barge visits for vital supplies.