Hawai‘i County Actively Hunts COVID to Prevent Clusters
The coronavirus tally on the Big Island has taken several disconcerting leaps over the last several weeks. Recently, however, higher case counts have been actively sought as a way to minimize larger clusters.
No new positive COVID-19 cases have been identified in Ocean View after a cluster was discovered in the Ka‘ū community about a week ago.
Nineteen people were diagnosed with the virus last week. A second round of testing took place at Kahuku Park on Oct. 24, during which 136 people were tested, all of whom returned negative results.
“That’s a good sign that the community is taking it seriously,” said Garrett Kim, member of the County COVID-19 Task Force.
Targeted community testing continues to be Hawai‘i County’s approach in identifying clusters of the virus, with the assistance of Premier Medical Group (PMG). Kim said the task force and PMG continue to see much bigger case numbers in housing complexes in Kona, which they expected.
“We go out and specifically look for as many positives as we can,” Kim said. “It’s a different approach than any place in the state.”
Kim explained the virus is moving within certain communities — particularly in low-income housing complexes and multi-generational households.
As of Tuesday, the Department of Health reported three new cases for the Big Island with a total of 374 active cases. The overall case count sits at 1,233. Hawai‘i County has seen a steady increase in COVID cases since August. On Sunday, the state reported the Big Island’s largest single-day case count of 51.
“To us, knowledge is power,” Kim explained. “Those numbers, (they are) tools in the toolbox to help us find it (virus). The only way to understand where it’s at in the community is to test.”
Dr. Kaohimanu Akiona is leading testing efforts on behalf of PMG on the Big Island. While the high number of COVID-19 cases over the weekend was shocking, Akiona said, it wasn’t surprising. Although labs work to return test results within 24 hours, Akiona explained it can still take up to two to three days before those numbers are officially counted by the DOH.
“It’s still a mystery for us when numbers get added to the pile,” she said.
On the surface, Kim said, the case count is very concerning, but the positivity rate on the Big Island is 3%. While the positivity rate is higher than Honolulu County, which sits at 2.1%, Kim said O‘ahu isn’t specifically looking at every corner of the island.
“We expect high numbers,” Kim said. “When we don’t find high numbers, we’re kind of caught by surprise.”
Ali‘i Health Center is one of a handful of health care providers that offer free COVID testing regularly. Anne Broderson, advanced practice registered nurse and cardiology at the Kona health facility led the effort to provide twice-a-week testing to West Hawai‘i residents.
On Tuesday, Broderson reported over the last month or so the number of positive cases has been fairly consistent with no major upticks. A lot of the positive cases they are seeing are a result of close contacts.
Broderson thinks the public should be concerned about the numbers as the Big Island has the most cases per capita in the state.
“Just be very conscientious,” she added.
Akiona and Kim agree with Broderson that the community should be concerned, but not so much as to panic.
The constant testing, Kim added, is preventing large-scale breakouts, adding the case count isn’t where he’d like it to be, but it’s a sign the team’s efforts are working.
Kim also noted the regular precautions that have been preached from the beginning of the pandemic in March are effective in preventing the spread of the virus as none of the individuals who conduct COVID tests in the community have tested positive for the infection.
Likewise, the Ali‘i Health team hasn’t had any positive cases either.
“No one on this island is more exposed to the virus, but they’re the least infected,” Kim said.
If everyone wore a mask, kept their physical distance and washed their hands, Kim added, the community would drive the numbers down.
Community testing is scheduled on Wednesday at Keauhou Shopping Center and in Waikoloa. A community targeted testing will take place at a housing complex in Kona on Saturday. Next week, spot testing is scheduled at a housing complex in Hilo.