Dr. Norman Estin focused on educating and protecting the community against COVID-19
HONOKOWAI — Responding to a micro-ad buried in the back of a medical journal, Dr. Norman Estin ventured to Maui in 1987 on an impulse to launch his career an ocean and a continent away.
The classified was placed by a peer, expanding services at a health clinic operating out of the Hyatt Regency Maui. Working in a Boston dispensary, Estin had experience in the Urgent Care-Outpatient type of medicine. It was a match — plus one — for Estin.
“I was in love with scuba diving; so I said, ‘What an opportunity!’ “
“I got a year’s sabbatical. I moved here; that was 33 years ago,” Estin recalled.
He never looked back.
“I became a scuba instructor. For the first three years, I taught diving in the morning; and, in the afternoon, I worked at the clinic in Kaanapali.
“By being the Junior Doctor, finally the opportunity came for me to take over the practice, and I did,” Estin resolved. Estin is proud of how his life and business evolved, with a commitment rooted in the West Side.
“We expanded to The Westin Maui and then to Kapalua. Then we consolidated and put in a big Doctors On Call Urgent Care Clinic in North Kaanapali next to the Time’s Market in Honokowai. We have been the face of visitor and resident medicine here for three decades.”
The community has benefited from his success and good will, as well.
He has been the doctor for various Lahainaluna High School and Maui Preparatory Academy sports teams.
“I was also fortunate to be the doctor for the Maui Jim Invitational Basketball Tournament and the Official Tournament Physician for the PGA Tournament of Champions the last 20 years,” the Family Medicine Specialist added.
Since the strike of COVID-19 in the first quarter of 2020, Estin’s priorities have multiplied. He’s on the front lines. His position is weighty. He’s the medical director of the Doctors On Call Urgent Care Covid Testing Center.
In our isolated corner of the Pacific, he’s on a quest to educate and protect us from the Coronavirus worldwide pandemic. First, he wants to heal us from unfounded fears.
“People here in Lahaina often ask me what is the most important thing I can do to both fight the pandemic and not get anxious or scared by it. I tell them the most important thing you can do is turn off the news. The reason for that is this. We live in the safest part of the safest state in the country. We are safe, because we don’t have a lot of people; in other words, our population density is not high, and we can live outdoors. We can live and eat and spend most of our lives outdoors.
“We can also control the entry of people who may be sick. Because of that,” Estin affirmed, “we’ve had the lowest number of cases anywhere in the country.”
In the beginning, like everywhere else on the planet, testing for the virus was problematic.
Important to determine the extent of the infection rate, COVID-19 drive-through rapid testing stations were established in all quarters of the island last year in August.
Estin described the strict protocol mandated at the Doctors On Call clinics in Honokowai, Kahului and in Wailea. It takes the guesswork out of community spread.
“The patients never leave the car. We basically bring them a clipboard, and they give us their insurance information. We take a Q-Tip and swab their nose. Then we do the medical visit over their iPhone.”
“Telemedicine has finally come of age,” Estin exclaimed. “It’s a win-win for everybody; they’re not exposed to anybody sick. It’s fast, it’s efficient, it’s easy and it’s all paid for by their insurance,” he continued.
“Doctors On Call has this incredibly great reception, nursing and provider staff; they’re the ones who really make all this possible.”
Vaccination is the ultimate weapon to use against the killer pandemic, Estin said.
“The way to prevent this is to build up immunity, and that means vaccination,” Estin advised. “Nothing will create immunity like a vaccination does. If you happen to get COVID and you get sick and recover, you will have partial immunity. What that means is that the infection has created antibodies to the COVID virus in your body, but it has not yet created the long-lasting resistance that is based on T-cells in your body. That requires a vaccine, and that’s why the vaccinations are so important.”
Vaccines are a help of a permanent preventative nature, Estin advised.
“At this point,” Estin told the Lahaina News, “I am personally involved in helping to run the very large and efficient drive-through vaccination clinic at UHMC, working alongside Dr. Lorrin Pang and the Department of Health under the direction of Mayor Victorino and the entire County of Maui. It’s been a tremendous community effort.”
Different tactics to alter the course of the plague are underway.
“What we’re doing now is transitioning from these large mass vaccination clinics to spreading the vaccine out into the community as much as we can.
“So some of the vaccines are going to Maui Medical Group, some to Kaiser, some to various medical groups like Doctors On Call, etc. Unfortunately, there is a limited supply coming from Honolulu, because there is a limited supply going into Honolulu from Washington.
Estin is optimistic, though: “All that will change in three to four weeks, and we anticipate there be a lot of vaccine available for all us in Maui at local medical providers and at the pharmacies.”
“From a medical-technical point of view,” Estin observed, “We only need 70 percent of the population to be vaccinated to protect everybody. With 40 to 50 percent of the population being vaccinated, we significantly decrease any possibility of an outbreak.”
In the meantime, Estin stressed the importance of being health-wise.
“The key thing is you want to avoid indoor confined areas without ventilation,” he said.
“To keep the numbers as low as they have been,” he coached, “we have to make sure that we maintain those healthy practices that begin with the letter W: Wearing a mask, washing our hands, watching our social distance and watching out for large groups.”
“Our goal is to reopen Maui, get the schools open and get people back to work. It’s sort of a paradox,” he thought, “we really are hoping to put both the testing and the vaccinating OUT of business!”
Many hands are joining together towards this end.
“The county has come forward, the Department of Health is throwing in its resources. The University of Hawaii Maui Campus has been great. As a matter of fact, the Culinary Department is giving box lunches to everybody in the middle of the day. The National Guard is doing a lot of the logistics and directing traffic. The vaccinations and protocols are actually being administered by the nursing students in the college themselves.
“It’s a tremendous example of a successful community effort and what’s required to fight this for the people of Maui,” Estin concluded.