Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Demand for COVID Tests Surges With Case Numbers

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It was a stark difference Monday at Nomi Health’s free COVID-19 testing site on the opposite end of the parking lot from Ross Dress for Less in the Waiākea Center in Hilo.

What was a five minute wait the week before had become more than 90 minutes as the line of people waiting to get their noses swabbed stretched from the testing tent to nearly the clothing store itself at about 12:45 p.m.

And people kept coming. The line never really decreased in size as one person after another got their test and were sent on their way.

Image from Waimea Community Association Facebook Post

As the number of COVID-19 cases has surged again throughout the state, the demand for testing and vaccination has also increased. Hawaiʻi County, Hilo Medical Center and the Waimea Community Association each reported increased testing demand.

“TESTING in big demand .… ,” says part of a post on the Waimea Community Association’s Facebook page. “Stay safe, mask up, avoid groups, cancel travel plans – but most important: get vaccinated and/or boostered if not already. Thank you!”

Hawaiʻi County reported in a press release from the Office of the Mayor on Tuesday that 2,666 PCR tests have been issued at county-supported testing events since Dec. 1. That’s a total of 3.59% of the 74,253 PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, tests administered since March 2020.

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“We would like to thank the community for stepping up and taking the initiative to get vaccinated and tested this holiday season as we all continue to work together to keep each other safe and healthy,” said Mayor Mitch Roth, who tested positive for COVID-19 during the Christmas weekend.

On Monday, Hilo Medical Center administered 25 COVID tests in its emergency department. The hospital started seeing a larger number of patients visiting the department for COVID-related reasons last week.

COVID-19 tests are administered to emergency patients and patients who are admitted to the hospital. HMC no longer does public testing.

“We test them to make sure we’re all safe here,” said Elena Cabatu, director of public affairs for Hilo Medical Center.

The hospital also still administers tests to employees who were or might have been exposed to the coronavirus. HMC has seen an increase in COVID-19 testing among its employees in the past week because of more exposures.

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“Our recommendation to the community is to come to get tested at the hospital if you are truly sick,” Cabatu said.

She said that because so many people are now vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19, health guidelines say even if a person is exposed to the virus or is sick and asymptomatic, there is no need to go to the hospital unless it’s an emergency.

The increases the Hilo hospital has seen as of late haven’t been “smashing,” Cabatu said, and, fortunately, the recent surge in cases throughout the state has not meant an increase in hospitalizations.

“We have not seen the large case count in the state materialize into total cases on the Big Island and the hospitalizations,” Cabatu said, adding that there were just three people at the hospital with COVID-19 on Tuesday. “It’s been at that kind of plateau of very low plateau over the last two months.”

But HMC is preparing for another influx of COVID-19 patients if they come.

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“It’s still inching up and we’re not seeing it escalate on the vertical right now,” Cabatu said about the Big Island. “I don’t think we’re there yet, like how Oʻahu is. So we’re just monitoring, we’re preparing, we’re encouraging people to get their boosters and just encouraging folks to gather responsibly and test if they need to.”

The hospital encourages people who think they might have been exposed to COVID but are not sick to visit a community testing site. Cabatu said people also need to be mindful of COVID’s incubation period, which can be up to seven days, and to get tested after that time frame to “make sure that we’re not wasting any tests.”

“It’s really important to wait that 5-7 days before testing because there is a limited supply of testing or availability out there in the community,” she said. “So, we want to make sure every test counts.”

People who think they might have been exposed should also isolate before getting tested and while waiting for their test results.

Of course, the best way to be protected against COVID is to get vaccinated. HMC on Monday reopened its vaccination clinic to the public. To make an appointment, click here. The clinic is open weekdays, except for holidays.

“We wanted to reopen it to encourage the community to get boosted,” Cabatu said. People 16 years and older can receive the booster shot.

Reopening the clinic also allows the hospital to help relieve some of the pressure on community vaccination sites because of the demand for COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots.

“We know that other clinics are being swamped right now, so we needed to do our part and contribute to helping,” Cabatu said.

Nearly 4,000 vaccinations have been administered at county-supported events since Dec. 1. That’s 4.09%, or 3,890, of the total 95,109 vaccines administered during these types of clinics since late December 2020.

The county has partnered with the following providers to offer COVID-19 testing and vaccination services islandwide:

  • KTA Super Stores
  • West Hawaiʻi Community Health Center
  • Kona Community Hospital
  • Hilo Medical Center
  • Kaʻū Rural Health Community Association
  • Bay Clinic
  • Hawai’i Department of Health
  • Premier Medical Group
  • Queen’s North Hawaiʻi Community Hospital
  • Hamakua-Kohala Health

The county provides, in partnership, testing clinics in Kapaʻau, Waimea, Hilo, Kailua-Kona, Captain Cook, Naʻālehu, Pāhala and Pāhoa, with 15 events scheduled each week.

Roth offered praise for all of the county’s partners for their work.

“We would also like to thank all of our partners who have worked tirelessly, around the clock, to make sure that testing and vaccination sites remain available for everyone on our island,” the mayor said. “Combating this virus has taken a toll on all of us, and we want each of you to know that you are valued, seen and appreciated for your efforts. This is truly a community effort, and we are proud to be a part of such an amazing community that lives with aloha, honor and respect for each other.”

Community testing and vaccination sites and more information can be found online.

The DOH reported a total of 824 new COVID cases Tuesday. The average daily test positivity rate for the state was at 12.2% Tuesday morning. In Hawai’i County, 50 new cases were reported, with the seven-day average number of cases increasing to 72. The Big Island had a 7.8% test positivity rate as of Tuesday.

The state stands at 74% fully vaccinated, while Hawai’i County was at 66% as of Tuesday, the lowest vaccination rate among the state’s four counties.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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