Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Waimea Urgent Care Tentatively Closes; COVID-19 Testing Sites Open Islandwide

March 17, 2020, 8:16 PM HST
* Updated March 18, 7:58 AM
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External triage center set up outside West Hawai’i Community Health Center for COVID-19 testing. (PC: Tiffany DeMasters)

Waimea Urgent Care has tentatively closed until April 1, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues its spread.

On Tuesday, an official at the urgent care center confirmed the tentative closure but wouldn’t comment further. At this point, no other urgent cares on the Big Island have closed. The first presumptive positive case was confirmed for Hawai‘i County.

The COVID-19 Joint Information Center (JIC), set up by the state government, said it was unaware of any official guidance to urgent care facilities recommending they close their doors.

“(Urgent care centers) are an essential part of the healthcare network for the residents of the state,” an email from JIC said. “We assume that every healthcare facility is using appropriate infection control, procedures and protocols.”

Other health facilities are bracing for a potential rise in patients due to Waimea Urgent Care’s closure. Lynn Scully, spokeswoman at North Hawai‘i Community Hospital, said she anticipates an increase in volume. The hospital, she added, is equipped to handle any influx.

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NHCH started testing for COVID-19 on Monday, where 15 samples were taken. Scully said the facility hasn’t seen a huge increase in patients since the outbreak began, however, they are seeing more people coming to the hospital to ask questions.

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West Hawai‘i Community Health Center started testing its patients with symptoms for COVID-19 last week. WHCHC is not performing tests on the general public, however they are accepting new patients. A screening site and triage center are set up in the parking lot at its clinic off of Kuakini Highway. So far, 21 people have been tested through Monday — 11 results have returned as negative and 10 still pending.

With word of the Waimea Urgent Care closure, Victoria Hanes, chief operating officer at the health center, said WHCHC will set up a screening site at its Waikoloa facility as soon as possible.

All screening sites were rolled out at all West Hawai‘i Community Health Center locations Monday.

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Testing Sites Set Up Islandwide

Ali‘i Health and Aloha Urgent Care in West Hawai‘i are now also equipped to provide testing for symptomatic patients. Before a person can get tested, they are asked three questions: do you have a fever, cough or shortness of breath; have you been around someone who has COVID-19; and have you been in a country or area where there is COVID-19?

The triage center at West Hawai‘i Community Health Center tests patients for the flu. If a rapid flu test comes back negative, they swab for COVID-19. The sample is sent to a private lab and results are returned within four to seven days.

The Kona site is the only location that has an external triage center among all its other facilities. Hanes said there is protocol in place at other facilities that allow for a patient to come in, get tested and exit the building quickly. All testing must be set up by appointment.

West Hawai‘i Community Health Center’s Director of Clinical Operations Roberta Losik said its facility receives test kits as they become available. If the center ends up having a positive case, it will be reported to the Department of Health, which will take over the investigation.

“We have a responsibility to do what we can to not clog up emergency rooms with testing cases,” Hanes said. “It potentially diverts care.”

On Tuesday, Hilo Medical Center set up a drive-through testing site across the street from the hospital, adjacent to the cancer center. With hours of operation between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., there were more than 30 samples collected, which will be sent to the mainland for processing.

HMC’s Public Information Officer Elena Cabatu said it will take about a week to get test results back. Cabatu added that the hospital is working with Clinical Labs of Hawai‘i to collect the samples and they are working very hard to get more testing supplies.

Cabatu has been with HMC for 13 years. In her time, she hasn’t seen anything quite like this.

“We’ve seen lava, Hurricane Lane and Dengue Fever,” she said. “This is a whole other level, and we feel prepared for this. It’s a significant amount of stress on us, but we’ll be stronger together.”

Drive-through testing is also set up on the North Hawai‘i Community Hospital campus. People pull up in their vehicles, a sample is taken by a medical professional and they leave. The individual never leaves the car.

Scully wanted to remind the public that testing isn’t intended for everyone and is reserved for those who present symptoms. All tests must be administered by way of a physician’s order. If one goes to the testing site, don’t get out of the vehicle.

“They wait in the comfort of their car,” Scully said. “We come to them.”

Judy Donovan, KCH spokeswoman, said they don’t have the infrastructure to provide public testing.

KCH is screening everyone who comes into the facility and providing testing for inpatients. Donovan said the hospital isn’t accepting prescriptions for a testing. A test will only be conducted if the person is admitted to the hospital and has symptoms.

The hospital has limited points of entry for visitors and one visitor is currently allowed per patient. All those who come to the hospital are screened.

“What we’re concerned and planning for is an influx in patients,” Donovan said.

The hospital is prepared to create a triage center for flu/COVID-19 patients. All of this, Donovan said, is about limiting exposure.

Donovan said she’s never seen anything quite like this.

 

“This is probably the most prepared they (Department of Health) have ever been for a response,” Donovan said.

 

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