Contact Testing of Public Instated in Hawai‘i’

April 8, 2020, 7:16 PM HST (Updated April 8, 2020, 7:16 PM)
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Lt. Gov. Josh Green. PC: Office of the Governor

Public contact-testing will now be a regular part of Hawai‘i’s approach to curbing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lieutenant Governor Josh Green announced the transition to contact-testing Wednesday, which is described as the testing of close, intimate contacts of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We will now be contact-testing all symptomatic or asymptomatic (people) who had close contact with (coronavirus patients),” Green said.

Close contacts and tests will be determined and ordered by the Hawai‘i Department of Health (DOH) and/or licensed healthcare providers. They will be conducted by the Hawai‘i State Lab and/or private labs.

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Identified close contacts of individuals who test positive will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days. Because some close contacts who are asymptomatic may test negative, additional testing for those individuals will be evaluated and ordered on a case-by-case basis, DOH said.

Contact testing will continue to be prioritized among critical infrastructure workers like healthcare providers, police, firefighters, EMS and others. Members of the general public who are asymptomatic and not deemed close contacts will not be tested at this time, the DOH said.

The decision comes two weeks into Governor David Ige’s mandatory stay-at-home order and on the day the Hawai‘i’s first cluster of coronavirus cases was announced at Maui Memorial Medical Center.

The hospital confirmed 15 of its workers have tested positive for COVID-19. The employees were immediately sent home to self-isolate and plans are being developed to move these employees to a quarantine site away from their families, the state said.

“These are difficult times for all of us and we are taking immediate action to assist our healthcare workers,” Maui Mayor Mike Victorino said in a statement. “Maui County will be redirecting any available personal protective equipment to the hospital for its staff.”

DOH Director Bruce Anderson said none of the cases involving hospital employees are newly confirmed, with some stretching back as far as mid-March and some also being related to travel.

“There was no cover-up of Maui cases,” Anderson said Wednesday. “Investigating outbreaks of disease is detective work. … No one was linking cases to the hospital and the possibility that the disease could be transmitted between workers.”

That discovery was made Tuesday, he continued.

“In this case, there’s little question that transmission was happening between workers,” Anderson said.

All infected employees are quarantined or isolated and close contacts are being tested as well. Those individuals will remain quarantined until results come back.

Healthcare workers have previously voiced fears that a similar cluster of COVID-19 could pop up on the Big Island, citing a lack of personal protective equipment and questionable hospital policy amid an unprecedented situation.

The United States’ national stockpile of personal protective equipment is now depleted, which is something Ige said the state was expecting. Most of those supplies went to states like New York and Washington, where healthcare systems have been overwhelmed by coronavirus patients.

Green said because the curve has been linear in Hawai‘i, with daily reported cases typically falling between 20 and 30 for several consecutive days, the disease has been extended. While that sounds bad, it’s actually good and a result of quarantine and stay-at-home orders.

It means that hospital space and ventilator availability in the state will be more capable of navigating a surge in confirmed cases and hospitalizations, which would most likely come in the next two to three weeks were it to arrive.

 TotalIn Use%
Hospital Beds2,7731,30447%
ICU Beds3389728.6%
Ventilators5356512%
Individuals hospitalized59  

Officials continued to implore people to observe social distancing, reminding the public that N95 masks and other medical-grade masks should be reserved for healthcare professionals and other first responders.

National Guard members and police across the state have also been confirmed positive for COVID-19, along with the cluster of healthcare workers at Maui Memorial Medical Center, highlighting the extra risk people in those jobs assume every day.

Beyond the COVID-19 cluster, Maui was also the location of the sixth coronavirus-related death in Hawai‘i, which DOH announced Wednesday morning. It was the second death attributed to that island, with the other four deaths occurring on O‘ahu.

The patient who died was an elderly resident of Maui, aged at least 65 years. The state couldn’t provide more information Wednesday.

The count of new COVID-19 cases includes 25 additional adults, raising the statewide total to 435. Fourteen of Wednesday’s new cases are Hawai‘i residents, five are non-Hawai‘i residents and the place of residence for six others is unknown.

HAWAI‘I COVID-19 COUNTS AS OF 12 NOON, APRIL 8, 2020

County of DiagnosisNew CasesReported since

2/28/2020

(including new cases)

Total Released from Isolation
Honolulu1632883
Hawai‘i3269
Maui++65414
Kaua‘i0187
Residents Diagnosed outside HI02 
Unknown**07113
Total2543585
    
Deaths*1*6 

* Deaths reported after midnight are included in the following day’s official report.

++ Includes two positive cases on Moloka‘i. 

** Refers to positive cases that have an unknown county of diagnosis at the time of this report. As more information becomes available for these cases, they are assigned to the proper County of Diagnosis. A negative number indicates the number of previously unknown cases that have now been assigned to a county.

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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