Virus testing comes to Waikoloa

  • Premier Medical Group preforms COVID-19 screening in March at Old Kona Airport Park. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

Free COVID-19 testing is coming to Waikoloa on Saturday thanks to a partnership between Premier Medical Group and Waikoloa Elementary and Middle School.

The pop-up, drive-through testing will be held at the school’s parking lot from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. All community members — including students — are encouraged to be screened. No appointment is necessary and no one will be turned away.

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The event comes as Hawaii Island’s COVID-19 case count continues to surge with 26 new cases announced on Friday alone and more than a dozen hospitalized. Between Sunday and Friday, the island saw its total case count increase 39.5% from 200 to 279 with 117 of those known cases considered active infections.

Waikoloa Middle School Counselor Nancy Johnson coordinated the testing hosted at the Waikoloa Village facility.

“We have a wonderful, visionary principal and we have a bunch of very committed people at the school,” Johnson said. “Most people on the island have seen the impact this has had on our families and on our communities. We wanted to make sure that there was testing available in Waikoloa for the Waikoloa residents.”

Even though testing available in Kona, residents of Waikoloa, many who are out of work, still have to be able to fill up that gas tank to get there, she said.

“What is going to make this so positive is we have a substantial space to set this up,” Johnson said. “It’s going to enable us to have a more robust testing program. We are enabling Premier to do what they do best.”

Premier Medical Group medical director Dr. Ka‘ohi Dang Akiona said the teachers and principal Kris Kosa-Correia reached out to Premier with their concerns and need for support, and they were ready, willing and able to help

“We are touched and overwhelmed,” Johnson said. “The main thing is we want to do it for our kids. We love our kids and our Waikoloa families.”

Akiona said the biggest benefit from testing and screening has been the ability for everybody to ask the doctors a question.

“Even though they think they have been following all the guidelines, they don’t realize that by their grandkids coming over, it opens up their risk bubble and often times kids don’t look symptomatic or just look like they have a runny nose and they could be the vehicle that is passing it between the homes,” Akiona said.

While new testing guidelines released by the CDC this week say it’s not necessary for people who have been in close contact with infected people, but don’t feel sick, to get tested, Akiona disagrees.

“We know asymptomatic spread is a problem. There has been documentation that a lot more people carry the virus without showing the symptoms. On the other side, we don’t always pay attention to all of the symptoms which is why we encourage everybody to come. The more they come, the more they talk, the more they ask and realize maybe they do have some symptoms,” Akiona said.

The doctor said she is frustrated by this change in guidelines, adding it has been a big problem that everyone is receiving mixed messages.

“People have gotten such an inconsistent message from our own government, it makes my job is a million times harder.,” she said. “Changing the CDC guidelines in the middle of a pandemic is something clinicians don’t agree with at all. It just makes our jobs a little bit harder. Don’t let people push you to change your mind if you don’t have any proof.”

Community members seeking testing are asked to bring an ID and insurance card, although insurance is not required to be tested. Participants must wear a face covering at all times, and observe social distancing.

Students may walk up for testing with a school ID, preferably with a parent, but if a parent is unable to attend they will not be turned away so long as they have a signed consent form that can be downloaded at https://www.waikoloaschool.org.

Free COVID-19 testing will also be offered Saturday at Prince Kuhio Shopping Center in Hilo. The testing, provided by Premier Medical Group be at the Ohuohu Street parking lot from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Premier Medical Group has been holding pop-up screenings on the Big Island and Oahu since March.

“We need to find the clusters of asymptomatic patients and isolate them because they can pass the virus to others,” Premier Medical Group president and founder Dr. Scott Miscovich said in a July interview with West Hawaii Today. He explained the virus has a five- to six-day incubation period and approximately 40% of those infected are asymptomatic. “This is how the state and county needs to address it.”

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He added they are not going to stop this process until there are no active cases.

“If it helps one or two people it will be a good turnout. If it helps more, it will be a great turnout,” Johnson said.

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