Hawaii County reinstates testing program

  • Patrick Hughes conducts a drive-through test for COVID-19 at the Kona Community Aquatic Center on Tuesday. (Tom Linder/West Hawaii Today)

  • The Kona Community Aquatic Center will serve as a COVID-19 testing site from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays through the end of August. (Tom Linder/West Hawaii Today)

  • Patrick Hughes (left) conducts a drive-through test for COVID-19 while a National Guardsman gathers a patient’s information prior to testing. (Tom Linder/West Hawaii Today)

Amid a recent increase in positive cases throughout the state, Hawaii County has reinstated its free community COVID-19 testing program.

Testing dates have been scheduled through the end of August at two locations. In Kona, tests will be held on Tuesdays from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Kona Community Aquatic Center. In Hilo, tests will take place on Wednesdays between 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Afook Chinen Civic Center Auditorium.

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“Since the beginning of the pandemic, community testing has allowed us to gather invaluable data and catch many cases that helped to significantly reduce community spread,” Mayor Mitch Roth said in a statement.

All tests will be administered by S&G Labs. It will be assisted by the Hawaii National Guard to ensure it can handle whatever volume of tests is necessary.

“It’s hard to anticipate what the turnout is going to be,” said Crystal Nobriga, vice president of communications for S&G Labs.

Initial turnout at the first day of testing in Kona was significant, with as many as 25 vehicles at a time waiting in line at the Kona Community Aquatic Center. Hawaii’s Lt. Gov. Josh Green confirmed on Tuesday that FEMA will reimburse the county for any testing done by the program.

The Big Island has seen a significant surge in new cases in July. In the week leading up to July 4, Hawaii County’s seven-day average was 5.7 positive cases per day; as of July 20, that number has jumped to 17.7 positive cases per day. Statewide, the average new daily cases have increased to 113. The current positivity rate for the Big Island is 4.4% is slightly higher than the statewide average of 3.5%.

Despite this increase in cases, hospital capacity in Hawaii County remains in good shape. COVID hospitalizations and deaths have not increased in line with case counts.

“We have a lot of capacity,” said Green, a practicing West Hawaii physician. “We have a total of eight individuals in our hospitals – seven in Hilo and one in Kona – with COVID. We’re seeing more cases, but we’re not really seeing that many more hospitalizations.”

Green noted the vast majority of these hospitalized cases – between 94 and 95% – are unvaccinated, with the few vaccinated individuals tending to be very elderly kupuna. This highlights the importance of getting vaccinated that both Roth and Green continue to echo.

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“We would like to ask that we all go out and encourage our loved ones to get vaccinated for the health of our community,” said Roth.

“The message I keep coming back to: please, everyone get vaccinated. That’s the only way we’re going to stop the virus,” added Green. “You don’t just get vaccinated for yourself; you get vaccinated for all the people that are in your life.”

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