Virus testing continues in East Hawaii

  • Dr. Anna Maisu takes a sample from a patient March 17 at Hilo Medical Center’s drive-through coronavirus testing site. (Photo courtesy/ELENA CABATU)

More than 200 people have been tested for COVID-19 at Hilo Medical Center’s drive-through testing site since it launched a week ago.

According to information provided by HMC, 34 people were tested March 17, 37 were tested March 18, 48 were tested March 19, 43 were tested March 20, 38 were tested Monday, and 36 were tested Tuesday.

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Hospital spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said HMC was prepared to conduct about 100 tests a day, if needed.

“I want to give kudos to community physicians who are screening their patients appropriately in accordance with the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the (state) Department of Health Guidelines,” she said. “It really does help us manage the limited amount of testing supplies that we have.”

Another testing site opened Monday at Puna Community Medical Center, located at 15-2662 Pahoa Village Road in Pahoa, where 21 individuals were screened and a total of 10 were tested. On Tuesday, five were tested.

The Hilo site requires a physician’s order for a person to get tested, but at the Pahoa site, screening for COVID-19 symptoms will be done by an on-site provider, who then will determine if a test should be conducted.

Testing sites won’t be open Thursday, which is Prince Kuhio Day.

The state’s COVID-19 Joint Information Center has said those who are not experiencing symptoms do not need to be tested.

Those with mild illness should practice social distancing measures, monitor their illness and call their health care provider if symptoms worsen or persist.

HMC also is seeking community donations of N95 and surgical masks, face shields, safety goggles, gowns, Tyvek suits and nitrile gloves in original and unopened packaging, and new or gently worn scrubs.

Among those who have already contributed to the hospital’s emergency stores, Cabatu said Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corp. donated 6,600 surgical masks that can be used whether staff are screening those entering the hospitals or patients who could be symptomatic.

Supplies also are needed for those who aren’t involved in direct patient care, like maintenance workers and house keepers.

“The donations we are getting are definitely going to be part of building up our supplies, if our medical-grade supplies get really depleted,” said Cabatu.

Donations will be accepted from 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday at HMC’s Human Resources Office, located below the hospital at the corner of Rainbow Drive and Waianuenue Avenue. Call 932-3150 for information.

“We are really concentrating on what we can get on our campus within arms’ reach, so we can access them as soon as we need to access them,” she continued. “It’s hard being on the neighbor island. We have to make sure we have supplies on our island and on our campus. …”

Meanwhile, Hawaii’s COVID-19 count continues to grow.

State health officials on Tuesday said 14 new cases bring the state’s total tally to 90 confirmed or presumptive positive cases.

Health Director Bruce Anderson said during a media briefing Tuesday afternoon that 10 of the new cases were residents, three were nonresidents, and one was still being investigated.

One of the new cases was on the Big Island, 12 were on Oahu and one was on Maui, he said.

Five cases have now been reported on Hawaii Island since Feb. 28. A previous count had misattributed a case to the Big Island when it should have been attributed to Kauai, according to information from the state’s COVID-19 Joint Information Center.

Anderson also said that the state is in the process of re-evaluating the test results from the first fatality attributed to COVID-19 because of “procedural issues” in regards to the test.

“Originally the test was done by a private laboratory and determined to be inconclusive,” he said. “We’re wanting to run that test again, and we should have conclusive results on that before the end of today.

“Because of the importance of any death associated with COVID-19, we have developed a policy as of late to require retesting of any sample we’ve had. We want to make sure the results are accurate.”

Anderson also said Tuesday he supported restrictive measures announced earlier this week by Gov. David Ige.

Ige on Monday signed a supplementary emergency proclamation ordering residents statewide to stay at home through April 30 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proclamation, which went into effect at 12:01 a.m. today, orders residents to stay at home or in their lodging, leaving “only for essential activities or to engage in the essential businesses and operations” identified in the order, and to maintain social distancing requirements “to the fullest extent possible.” Those who can work at home are also ordered to do so.

Violation of the order is considered a misdemeanor, and anyone convicted of violating the order can be sentenced to a year in jail or fined up to $5,000, or both.

Anderson said Tuesday that there is not yet evidence of widespread community transmission of COVID-19

“I think we’ve gotten as far as we can ahead of this whole process by imposing those rather extreme measures, requiring people to stay home, and it’s to prevent the disease from spreading in our community,” he said. “The best time to do that is before it becomes widespread, where you can expect your prevention measures to make the most difference. So I believe the governor and the mayors who have imposed these very stringent requirements are acting appropriately and certainly support everything that they’re doing.”

Also on Tuesday:

The state Department of Education announced that schools will remain closed to students, and in-school instruction is on hold through April 30, based on the latest guidance from health officials and elected leaders.

The DOE, along with charter schools, will send out information about enrichment opportunities, including online resources and printed materials, such as instructional packets.

Tips and tools gathered by the DOE’s Office of Curriculum and Instructional Design are available online at bit.ly/HIDOEVirtualLearning ParentResource.

The DOE also said it expects to share by the end of the week specific plans to ensure eligible high school graduates can earn diplomas.

During the extended break, a number of Hawaii public schools will provide grab-and-go breakfast and lunch to children 18 years old and younger, Monday through Friday. Breakfast is available from 7:30-8:30 a.m. and lunch from 11:30 a.m.-noon.

Locations on the Big Island include: Ka‘u High &Intermediate School, Kohala High School, Konawaena High School, Pahoa High &Intermediate School, Waiakea High School, Honokaa High School, Kahakai Elementary School, Mountain View Elementary School and Waimea Elementary School.

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Those who come to pick up a meal must be accompanied by a child. Meals will not be served Thursday, which is Prince Kuhio Day.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.