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Demand for COVID-19 Testing Spikes with Delta Variant Surge

By Tiffany DeMasters
August 4, 2021, 10:19 AM HST
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COVID-19 tests were difficult to come by over the weekend as a first responder attested to in his unsuccessful attempt to get tested for the virus.

Suffering from a minor sore throat and congestion, Mark Van Heukelem went to a KTA pharmacy in Hilo on Saturday, July 31, to take a test. Testing was scheduled for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., however, Van Heukelem told Big Island Now the pharmacy was turning people away at 9:35 a.m.

Heukelem next tried his luck at the Hilo Urgent Care where the wait was three hours and he was not allowed to schedule an appointment. While he has been vaccinated, Heukelem was trying to be responsible.

“I don’t want to get coworkers or anyone I’m working on sick,” he told Big Island Now on Saturday. “It (the vaccine) has been pretty much proven to work, but apparently we can still contract the virus.”

As COVID-19 cases have surged statewide as a result of the spread of the Delta variant, demand for testing has returned to the Big Island. However, with testing operations scaled back significantly, access has proven to be difficult.

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“Everyone needs an option and there’s not a lot of choices,” said Premier Medical Group Dr. Kaohimanu Akiona.

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Akiona and her PMG team have been providing testing to the community since the pandemic began in March 2020. While their larger operations were scaled back, they continue to go around the island, offering testing as well as vaccinations.

The county brought back its community-wide testing program in July, which they had ended in May due to a drastic decline in demand. The county officials resurrected the program due to the surge in daily COVID cases.

Akiona felt the county’s decision to end community-wide testing on the Big Island was a mistake. The number of test kits available isn’t the problem, Akiona said, noting the demand is going up and access has been down.

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Akiona’s team conducted 302 PCR tests during their mobile clinics on Tuesday, Aug. 3.

At the Cooper Center in Volcano, the PMG team administered 21 vaccinations and performed 140 PCR tests and seven rapid tests, one of which was positive.

Akiona said the positive test was a school teacher. An influx of people hit PMG’s second testing location at the J Hara Store in Kurtistown as all the people who had some kind of exposure to the individual were coming down.

Akiona’s team conducted 162 PCR tests.

“We had to turn some people away because we couldn’t accommodate the cars,” she said.

While PMG was working with the county during Mayor Harry Kim’s administration, they are now a self-contained operation. However, they do continue to report their testing and vaccination numbers to Hawai‘i County Civil Defense Agency.

PMG continues to be a partner with the Department of Health.

Officials at Hilo Medical Center and Kona Community Hospital believe inexpensive or free testing is a must for the community as health workers continue their efforts in mitigating the impacts of the virus. KCH spokesperson Judy Donovan said their facility doesn’t have the capacity to test the community at large.

“Yesterday (Monday, Aug. 2) alone, we tested 24 employees in two hours,” Donovan said.

Since the pandemic began, KCH has conducted 949 staff stests.

The state is also now pushing for awareness of testing sites statewide. On Tuesday, Aug. 3, the DOH released locations where free COVID-19 testing was available in hopes of increasing awareness of the service.

“Testing is a key mitigation measure, especially as we continue to see widespread community transmission,” said Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char. “We encourage individuals exhibiting COVID symptoms and individuals who have been exposed to an infected person—regardless of vaccination status—to get tested.”

For COVID-19 health information, click here.

Vaccination continues to be the best protection against COVID-19. Vaccines are widely available for individuals 12 and older. Find more information at HawaiiCOVID19.com/vaccine.

Community-based testing sites are available through the US, Department of Health and Human Services at the following pharmacies:

  • CVS/Longs Drugs. Click here for more information.
  • Health Mart – Available at Pāhoa Pharmacy. Click here for more information.
  • Free testing may be available at federally qualified health centers. Click here for a list of FQHCs to contact for more information.

The county offers free community testing at the following locations:

  • Kona Aquatic Center – Tuesdays from 3-6 p.m.
  • Afook Chinen Civic Auditorium – Wednesdays from 3-6 p.m.
  • Waikoloa Stables – Wednesday, Aug. 4 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Waikoloa Stables is located at 68-1936 Waikoloa Rd., Waikoloa Village.
  • Keauhou Shopping Center – Friday, Aug. 6 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Keahou Shopping Center is located at 78-6831 Ali‘i Dr #232, Kailua-Kona.
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.
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