County Looks to Modify Airport Testing Program for COVID-19
March 31, 2021, 7:11 AM HST
* Updated March 31, 7:12 AM
Mayor Mitch Roth hopes to modify the COVID-19 post-arrival testing program at Hawai‘i County’s airports in the coming weeks as the rise in trans-pacific travelers has driven up the cost of the program.
As of March 30, nearly 200,000 travelers have been tested between Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport and Hilo International Airport, with approximately 165 people testing positive for coronavirus.
In partnership with Premier Medical Group, Hawai‘i County has tested nearly 100% of trans-pacific travelers at Kona and Hilo airports since October 2020. With the testing program in place, Roth said, that number of positives could have turned into thousands if they hadn’t been caught.
While more people are getting the vaccine and the number of hospitalizations goes down, Roth said, the airport program continues to be important, noting that just last week seven positives were identified.
“We need to do what we can so we don’t overwhelm our healthcare system,” Roth said.
The program has been funded by private donors since January. On April 1, Roth said the county plans to put $400,000 out of its federal funding toward airport testing. Potential modifications to the program include testing fewer incoming travelers and possible exemptions for those who have been vaccinated.
Knowing the state had a surplus of test kits, Roth said, the county reached out for months to the Department of Health, requesting assistance in procuring test kits as their supplies were running low.
“DOH agreed to assist and provide 50,000 test kits with the understanding that DOH’s test kit supply for community testing would be resupplied and this was confirmed in an agreement between the parties,” stated Janice Okubo, spokeswoman for the DOH.
Those kits were received in February. However, the county was denied any additional supply.
As of March 26, the state had an inventory of 672,000 BD Veritor tests (rapid antigen tests), all of which have now expired.
Okubo said the state’s test kit supply was established for community use, which does not include airport COVID-19 testing that may be instituted on a county by county basis under the provision of the Governor’s Emergency Proclamation. The supply of tests was used to respond to outbreaks in congregate settings such as nursing homes, care homes, prisons, housing complexes and hospital facilities.
Okubo said any airport COVID testing required by counties is accomplished at county expense, as provided in the Emergency Proclamation.
The test kits have not yet been thrown out as the manufacturer is currently performing testing to extend the shelf life of the product.
“When a new product, such as the BD Veritor antigen test for SARS-CoV-2, is developed it is not immediately evident how long the product is stable in storage,” Okubo stated. “Manufacturers initially make modest claims about shelf life, which can later be extended once more information has been gained about the shelf life.”
Scott Miscovich, president and founder of Premier Medical Group, said he has also used his own money to provide test kits for the airport program. Overall, Miscovich said he has put $1.5 million into the airport program.