Coronavirus Community Testing Program to Begin This Week

March 10, 2020, 3:42 PM HST (Updated March 13, 2020, 5:20 PM)
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Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist. DOH photo.

Hawai‘i will no longer test only those patients who meet the criteria for COVID-19.

State officials Tuesday announced a community sentinel testing program that will test the public at large in an attempt to identify if community spread is occurring and where the state can focus its efforts to best mitigate that spread.

“We’re going to use the framework that already exists,” said Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist.

Instead of pulling positive samples of swab tests for the flu from labs across the state, which the Department of Health already does at random to create its flu reports, the DOH will pull specimens from people who reported mild to moderate symptoms of cough and fever but tested negative for the flu. DOH will collect those samples from clinical commercial labs across Hawai‘i and test them at state laboratories.

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Dr. Edward Desmond, state lab director, said the current testing capacity for COVID-19 is around 250 people weekly. The state plans to conduct proactive community testing to the tune of roughly 200 people per week while saving 50 tests for those patients who meet the criteria to be tested for coronavirus straight away.

Gov. David Ige said, however, that the testing of those who meet the criteria for COVID-19 will be prioritized over those tested through the community sentinel program. Thus far, 22 people have been tested for coronavirus in Hawai‘i. Two have tested positive.

Private labs will also begin conducting coronavirus tests, officials said Tuesday. Those tests will need to be sent to the mainland for analysis, meaning turnaround time will be slower than the 24 to 48 hours needed to produce results of tests conducted within and by the state.

The idea for a community sentinel program has been in the works for more than a month, Dr. Park said. It is expected the program will begin sometime this week.

Max Dible
Max Dible is the News Director for both Big Island Now and Kauai Now. He also serves as News Director for Pacific Media Group's Hawai‘i Island family of radio stations. He formerly worked as a community reporter for West Hawai‘i Today in Kailua-Kona from 2016 to 2019. Before that, he was a sports editor, sports reporter, and radio talk show personality covering college athletics in Iowa. He's won several regional and national journalism awards, at both the collegiate and professional levels, for breaking news, long-form feature writing, and his work as a sports columnist.

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