174 Samples Taken at Ali‘i Health COVID-19 Testing Drive-Thru

March 28, 2020, 6:30 AM HST (Updated March 29, 2020, 6:27 AM)
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  • People get screened or tested during Alii Health Center's COVID-19 drive-thru site at Old Kona Airport on March 28. (PC: Tiffany DeMasters)
  • People get screened or tested during Alii Health Center's COVID-19 drive-thru site at Old Kona Airport on Saturday. (PC: Tiffany DeMasters)
  • People get screened or tested during Alii Health Center's COVID-19 drive-thru site at Old Kona Airport. (PC: Tiffany DeMasters)
  • Alii Health Center nurse delivers COVID-19 test samples to Clinical Labs on Oahu after testing drive on Saturday. (Submitted by Anne Broderson)
  • Alii Health Center nurse delivers COVID-19 test samples to Clinical Labs on Oahu after testing drive on Saturday. (Submitted by Anne Broderson)
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    • People get screened or tested during Alii Health Center's COVID-19 drive-thru site at Old Kona Airport on March 28. (PC: Tiffany DeMasters)
    • People get screened or tested during Alii Health Center's COVID-19 drive-thru site at Old Kona Airport on Saturday. (PC: Tiffany DeMasters)
    • People get screened or tested during Alii Health Center's COVID-19 drive-thru site at Old Kona Airport. (PC: Tiffany DeMasters)
    • Alii Health Center nurse delivers COVID-19 test samples to Clinical Labs on Oahu after testing drive on Saturday. (Submitted by Anne Broderson)
    • Alii Health Center nurse delivers COVID-19 test samples to Clinical Labs on Oahu after testing drive on Saturday. (Submitted by Anne Broderson)

A West Hawai‘i nurse transported approximately 174 COVID-19 tests to O‘ahu hours after collecting the samples during a drive-thru clinic at Old Kona Airport Park.

Ali‘i Health Center hosted its first pop-up drive-thru testing on Saturday. Healthcare workers at the Kona clinic plan to continue the testing and screening once a week in an effort to gain a handle on how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting Hawai‘i County. Approximately 350 individuals were screened during the event. Those coming through appeared to be residents recently returned to the island and quite a few first responders.

“I think for our first time doing this, we’re pretty impressed with what we could put together and other local providers and the county who contributed right off the bat,” said Anne Broderson, advanced practice registered nurse and cardiology nurse practitioner at Ali‘i Health.

Broderson flew the samples to O‘ahu and delivered them to Clinical Labs right after the event was finished. With the reduced flights, the nurse said, no courier was available to pick up the tests. Results will be returned as soon as two days or as late as 10 days.

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“If we kept them in Kona, they wouldn’t have left Kona till Monday,” Broderson said.

Ali‘i Health is working in partnership with Premier Medical Group. The O‘ahu team is part of the statewide task force performing more widespread screenings and tests. The group hosted West Hawai‘i’s first COVID-19 drive-thru testing on Monday where over 1,600 people were screened and 299 tests were sampled.

“What I’ve learned with working with Premier Medical Group is we’re seeing more positive cases among individuals who have mild symptoms,” Broderson said.

With the widespread testing that is now happening in Kona, Broderson said, it seems predictable that the number cases will increase.

“Even if the numbers go up right away, it will prevent the pockets that could develop,” the Ali‘i Health nurse said.

Healthcare workers still want to save tests for those who are showing symptoms.

As of March 28 at 5 p.m., Hawai‘i County has 10 COVID-19 cases — seven are residents and three are visitors. There are 29 new cases in the state of Hawai‘i bringing the total to 151, according to the Hawai‘i Department of Health. Cases confirmed across the nation has now exceeded 100,000 with over 1,600 deaths.

Ali‘i Health Medical Director Nathan Tomita was at Saturday’s drive. He said Hawai‘i is usually two weeks behind what is happening in the rest of the country.

“It’s important we use that extra time to (test and screen),” Tomita said.

With these pop-up drives, Tomita said, they’ll learn what the real number of infection is in the community. He added COVID-19 spreads exponentially over time. One person can infect three people, and the numbers increase from there.

“It’s the best thing we can do now,” Tomita said. “Even one person who comes through makes a difference.”

Broderson said the Kona clinic recognized the need that screening and testing was not happening in West Hawai‘i.

“This is the most important time to contain the virus,” Broderson said.

Broderson said Ali‘i Health will continue to operate the weekend screenings and testings until the novel coronavirus is contained or they run out of supplies.

The county supports these community endeavors. Garrett Kim, member of Hawai‘i County’s COVID-19 Task Force, said making screenings available is equally important to testing.

“Screening is vitally important,” Kim said. “It lets you know if its in the community and where in the community its at.”

As a member of the mayor’s task force, Kim said, his job is to provide education and awareness on the virus. For the past two months, Kim added, they’ve been working to prevent community spread.

“Just because we’re doing testing doesn’t mean cases are spiking,” Kim added. “We’re actively seeking them out.”

In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, Gov. David Ige issued 14-day mandatory quarantine for all travelers coming to Hawaii starting March 26. Since that time, only 23 visitors have landed at the Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole. Most of the travelers were returning residents of flight crews.

Kim said he doesn’t want people to let their guard down now that visitor arrivals have significantly reduced.

“You need to know the enemy you’re fighting — knowledge is power,” he said.

Aside from providing screens and tests, Kim said, the drive-thru clinics give the public a piece of mind as they can address their concerns face-to-face with a healthcare professional.

To cut down on wait time, Ali‘i Health is offering prescreening by phone or Telehealth. The prescreening will be available until the clinic stops doing testing. Call 808-747-8321 and select option 5 for assistance.

Dr. Kaohimanu Akiona, a member of Premier Medical Group, is working with Bay Clinic to host a drive in Hilo today. The screening and testing site will be located at Ho‘oulu Complex, 799 Pi‘ilani Street, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.

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