In-state virus testing begins

  • This undated photo provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows CDC’s laboratory test kit for the new coronavirus. (CDC via AP)

The state Department of Health now has the capability to test for COVID-19 — and has already put that test to use.

A visitor to Hawaii tested negative Friday for the recently discovered coronavirus.

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During a news conference Friday afternoon, Gov. David Ige said the DOH was informed Thursday night by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about a “person under investigation” who had traveled to Hawaii.

According to Danette Wong Tomiyasu, deputy director of health resources for the DOH, the adult visitor — a health care worker who had provided care to a patient recently confirmed to have the virus — arrived in Honolulu late Thursday from California.

“The individual had mild cold-like symptoms, and per CDC protocol, was quarantined in their hotel room,” she said.

The individual was identified through “contact tracing” conducted by the CDC, and a test sample was taken upon their arrival, Ige said.

“I’m glad to announce the state does now have the capacity to test for COVID-19 here in Hawaii,” Ige said. “The test result was negative for COVID-19, and in fact another test had indicated that the individual had the common cold.”

The ability to test with Hawaii came days earlier than expected.

Just Thursday, state health officials had expressed hope to have the capability to test for COVID-19 by early next week.

Prior to Friday, all laboratory testing to confirm COVID-19, a new respiratory illness that has infected thousands in China and elsewhere around the world, had to be completed at the CDC in Atlanta.

Test kits originally sent to state laboratories, including Hawaii, were found to to have defective components.

On Friday, however, Ige said through a verification process, the CDC and the state lab confirmed the original test kits sent to the state were usable.

“The part that was defective was not essential to being able to test for the COVID-19 virus,” he said.

Deputy state epidemiologist Sarah Kemble said that after receiving notice about the California traveler, the DOH did a health check Thursday, where mild symptoms were present, and deployed a team Friday morning to collect samples for testing.

“We actually provided guidance (Thursday) about how to implement quarantine in the hotel room so that no hotel workers would be exposed, either,” she said.

Kemble said the individual had symptoms prior to traveling, “and we’re very thankful that we found … a common cold virus and not COVID-19 virus.”

The public is urged to continue to take precautions — wash hands, cover coughs, avoid going to work when one is sick, and develop a preparedness plan.

There currently are no confirmed cases of the virus in Hawaii.

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.

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At this time, the CDC believes symptoms might appear 2-14 days after exposure.

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

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