The line of automobiles extended over a half-mile as residents descended upon Old Kona Airport Park for West Hawaii’s first drive-up COVID-19 testing Monday morning.
A Hawaii County worker meeting autos as they entered the park said he counted 300 cars in the first 40 minutes of the first Kona mass screening for the coronavirus, confirming community concerns over the spread of the virus.
Dr. Kaohimanu Akiona of Premier Medical Group was screening patients as they first drove up, determining if they qualified for testing.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Akiona, a practicing physician from the Big Island. “We are here to help.”
Dr. Scott Miscovich of Premier Medical Group brought the testing to Kona as a senior advisor to Lt. Gov. Josh Green’s COVID-19 Task force.
Akiona said Miscovich wanted to bring broader testing, with broader criteria than what the Department of Health is currently screening, through drive-up screening.
“It’s here already,” Akiona said of the virus on Hawaii Island. “We know it is, but the DOH guidelines are very strict for testing.”
Thay is why Green’s task force is here to get a better understanding of the number of residents infected with the virus.
After potential pateients were initially screened, those who met criteria advanced to the next station where they were given a form to complete with their personal information.
Volunteer Grace Emanuel, donned in protective equipment, was assisting patients with registration forms.
“It’s my duty to get out and help the community,” she said as she greeted each approaching vehicle with a smile you could see behind her masked face.
“I’m just trying to spread some aloha,” said the South Kona resident. “We have a duty to mentally, physically and spiritually to take care of ourselves and each other.”
And that spirit of aloha could be seen at each station the vehicle’s occupants passed.
Workers said the vibe in West Hawaii was different than that at drive-up screening in Kakaako in Oahu this past week.
“They have been very understanding of the screening process,” said a worker.
The next stop was ID and insurance verification. Although insurance wasn’t a requirement for testing, workers at this station photographed driver’s licenses and insurance card information for their records before moving on to the vital signs station. There, Hawaii Fire Department personnel took temperature, pulse and oxygen saturation before sending motorists to the final swabbing station.
Janet Nguyen, CMA and Office manager at Premier Medical Group, coordinated the final swabbing station.
“It was a pleasure working with everyone from Kona and definitely an honor to do this,” said Nguyen. “I am so happy we got to do this for you guys and that this will cary on after we leave and the people of the Big Island will get the testing they need. I feel so privileged to have been a part of this with you guys.”
Drive-up screening is tentatively scheduled for the next three Saturdays in West Hawaii, although logistics for the testing are still being worked out.
Test results from Monday are expected to take two to three days with results being provided by Clinical Labs and Diagnostic Laboratory Services. Premier Medical Services, based out of Oahu with a branch in West Hawaii, will notify all persons tested of the results as they receive them, and report all positive results to the state Department of Health.
“We made a decision about a week ago that the DOH testing was inadequate,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green.
Green said Miscovich made the decision to mobilize testing centers on outer islands. Since Kona had no services available with Kona Community Hospital unable to provide community testing, Green made sure it happened.
“We needed to get a base line for the community,” Green said. “This was a blessing to the community and we are thankful for it.”
Green said before community testing there were only eight positive tests out of 40 tests. With the drive-up testing, the task force is able to track the background of the spread of the virus.
He called the testing critical, expressing gratitude to Miscovich and his team for coming to Kona.
“Kona and Maui were the darkest spots in testing,” he said. “Scott’s team did a great job testing people who are at risk.”
At the end of the day, more than 1,600 West Hawaii residents arrived for testing with nearly 300 qualifying.
The state Department of Health reported five positive results on Hawaii Island as of noon Monday.