Gov. David Ige said he wants Hawaii to be a beta-tester for kits that can screen for COVID-19, the newly identified coronavirus that has infected thousands in China and elsewhere in the world.
Ige provided updates regarding recent visits to Japan and Washington, D.C., during a news conference Wednesday in Honolulu and addressed, among other topics, conversations he had during those trips about the virus.
In discussions with leaders from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies, Ige said it was “definitely made clear that Hawaii had a very unique situation.”
Currently, all laboratory testing to confirm COVID-19 has to be done at the CDC in Atlanta.
“The time it takes for us to take a sample, send it all the way to Atlanta, Georgia, to get tested, then returned to the islands, exceeds more than a week in the best of conditions,” Ige continued. “So, certainly, they acknowledged it would be better for us to have that testing capability.”
Test kits originally sent to state laboratories, including Hawaii, were found to be defective, and new test kits are currently being developed by the CDC, the state Department of Health said.
“I do think the current status now from CDC is they want to get it right rather than rush it,” Ige said. “And so I think the ability to test in Hawaii, they’ve acknowledged, should be a national priority just because of our isolation, and I certainly do expect that we will be amongst the first states to be able to test for the virus here in the islands.”
Ige said the state is pushing to be a beta-tester for the CDC’s kits “so we can at least get the test kits to us. We want to be able to test. They now recognize how different Hawaii is. …”
The DOH said after it receives test kits from the CDC, Hawaii could be ready to conduct testing in early or mid-March. But if Hawaii becomes a beta-tester for the new kits, testing could begin earlier.
No cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Hawaii, but as of Wednesday, 41 people were self-monitoring — 40 on Oahu and one on Maui — and one person remained in quarantine at Pearl Harbor.
The DOH, however, is still gathering facts about a Japanese couple who tested positive for COVID-19 after traveling to Hawaii.
The husband and wife from Japan were in Hawaii Jan. 28-Feb. 7 and tested positive for the virus only after returning to Japan. The couple traveled to Maui and Oahu.
Health officials said last week that the man was asymptomatic while on Maui and developed cold-like symptoms while on Oahu but did not seek care in the state.
According to the DOH, the man remains hospitalized and his wife has recovered.
Airlines and lodging facilities where the couple stayed are reaching out to employees, staff and guests, and the DOH has worked to identify those who possibly had close contact with the couple.
“To date, no individuals with prolonged contact have been identified in Hawaii,” the DOH said in a Wednesday update. “Casual contacts who are not at risk have been interviewed and are not in need of monitoring based on current federal guidelines.”
COVID-19 was first detected Dec. 31 in Wuhan, Hubei province, China.
Common coronaviruses in humans usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold, according to the CDC.
Symptoms of the newly identified virus include mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough and difficulty breathing. At this time, the CDC believes symptoms might appear 2-14 days after exposure.
More than 75,000 cases, largely in China, have been confirmed, and more than 2,100 deaths have been reported.
Although much focus has recently been on the coronavirus outbreak, health officials have warned that another virus — the flu — poses a bigger threat.
The number of flu cases has increased in the state, according to the DOH.
For the week of Jan. 26-Feb. 1, 8.3% of reported outpatient visits were related to influenza-like illnesses, but for the weeks of Jan. 12-18 and Jan. 19-25, that number was 7%.
To prevent respiratory illnesses, the DOH recommends that individuals should: wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands; avoid close contact with those who are sick; stay at home when sick, and cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and dispose of the tissue; and clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
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