West Hawaii leads in positive COVID-19 tests

  • Visitors flock to La‘aloa Beach Park on March 20. West Hawaii had the majority of confirmed COVID-19 cases on the island, a state Department of Health map released Monday shows. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Hawaii COVID-19 cases by ZIP code approximations as of March 29, 2020. (Hawaii Department of Health)

  • Hawaii COVID-19 cases by ZIP code approximations as of March 29, 2020. (Hawaii Department of Health)

West Hawaii had the majority of confirmed COVID-19 cases on the island, a state Department of Health map released Monday shows.

Six to 10 of the 14 confirmed cases on the island as of March 29 were in the Kailua-Kona approximate ZIP code 96740, compared to one to five in approximate ZIP codes for Captain Cook, Kealakekua and Waikoloa. East Hawaii ZIPs for Hilo, Mountain View and Pahoa also had from one to five cases.

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Hawaii Island now has 15 cases, with one additional case announced Tuesday. Of those, 11 are Big Island residents and the others are visitors.

The Health Department used census-designated ZCTAs, a ZIP code approximation, to make its map, but it provided only ranges of numbers of cases, instead of the actual number. The agency plans to release a new map at noon each Monday.

“We’ve had a lot of requests for a map,” Health Department Director Bruce Anderson said Tuesday. “We’re not seeing a lot of clustering.”

It’s not surprising that the island’s tourist epicenter would have the most cases. The vast majority of confirmed coronavirus tests have been travel-related, with community spread first detected March 14, according to the Health Department website.

Anderson said most positive tests seem to be coming from the “higher socio-economic areas that you’d be expecting people to be traveling.”

Anderson emphasized that there’s no additional risks for people in those areas, as many of the test results are older cases.

County Council members are keeping a close eye on the stats.

“I’m worried about Kona because it’s the center of our tourist industry,” said County Council Chairman Aaron Chung.

Experts have predicted that if people continue staying at home and practicing social distancing, COVID-19 cases could peak in the state sometime around the week of April 20.

“At that point, we’ll have a real good idea how successful our lockdown is,” Chung said. “If it’s rising steeply, then we’re in deep trouble.”

Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas said the higher Kona numbers could also reflect greater access to testing facilities. Villegas volunteered at a Saturday drive-through testing event at Old Kona Airport Park.

“I’m deeply concerned for the implications of these results, however I also want to take into account the fact that testing is more accessible in these districts,” Villegas said. “I’m grateful and proud of our community to go up and get tested.”

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Villegas noted the testing isn’t pleasant, but she said it’s important.

“It’s scary and painful. … You can see the trepidation on people’s faces. (They’re) looking for comfort and guidance and reassurance,” Villegas said. “It’s a responsible and accountable process to be participating in.”