Hawaii to begin testing negative flu samples for new virus

HONOLULU — Hawaii officials said Tuesday they plan to begin randomly testing negative flu samples taken in the state for the new coronavirus.

State epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park said Hawaii would be among the first jurisdictions in the country to conduct survey tests like this for the virus. The state Department of Health aims to begin testing a few dozen samples this week and ramp up to 200 samples next week.

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Hawaii has had two positive tests of COVID-19 to date, both from individuals who had traveled out of state. There has been no evidence that the virus has been spreading in Hawaii.

The new testing, which officials call a sentinel community surveillance program, will help the state determine whether the virus has been circulating under the radar.

“We continue to hope it’s not present but we don’t want to close our eyes to the possibility that it is,” Hawaii Gov. David Ige said at a news conference. “This program will allow us to take samples and test it for COVID-19 so we can confirm whether it is or isn’t present in our community.”

The random sample testing mirrors broad testing the state Department of Health conducts for the seasonal influenza.

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In fact, the department will draw on the same flu tests for its samples. It will take the up to 400 randomly selected samples from people who have tested negative for the flu, and test 200 of these for COVID-19.

These samples will come from tests collected from patients at doctor’s offices and other outpatient settings.

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