Drive-through testing coming: Meanwhile, cruises cancelled; Matson pushes back against rumors; first random virus tests negative

  • Dan Brinkman

Hilo Medical Center on Tuesday will open a COVID-19 drive-through area to collect samples to be sent away for testing.

Located adjacent to HMC’s Hawaii Pacific Oncology Center, across from the hospital on Waianuenue Avenue, the drive-through will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays.

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Dan Brinkman, East Hawaii Regional CEO, Hawaii Health Systems Corp., said the setup will use tents because the hospital wants to keep it in the parking lot and for people to stay in their cars and remain isolated.

The hospital is following the models used successfully in other areas, he said.

HMC will assess hours of operation based on demand and access to tests, Brinkman said.

Brinkman said HMC has limited testing supplies at this time, “which is why we’re going to start slow this week and hopefully supplies will catch up … .”

To be screened, patients must have a order for testing from their physician which must be presented at the testing site. Patients also should bring their ID and insurance card. The samples will be taken via swabs.

According to Brinkman, offering drive-through testing is a way to stay vigilant and find out whether the virus is circulating in the community.

If, for example, a number of people test positive for the disease, that can drive decisions about how to reduce its spread.

“It’s very important for us to do these measures early on because measures that prevent the progression of this virus and slow it down allows our health care system and infrastructure be able to handle it,” he said. “When you get it all at once, our resources are strained or overwhelmed. We want to do all we can to make this a process we go through that’s manageable for our caregivers and our community.”

HMC is joining other providers in Hawaii in this effort.

Hilton Raethel, president and CEO of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said during a Friday news conference that the organization has been working with members across the state to set up screening and collection centers for COVID-19 testing.

According to information from the state’s Joint Information Center on COVID-19, The Queen’s Medical Center-Punchbowl has established a triage center, and a tent has been set up to conduct testing for the virus from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

The tent is only for those with mild to moderate flu-like symptoms and only symptomatic people at risk will be tested.

Raethel said Hawaii Pacific Health on Oahu and Kauai was on Friday setting up testing centers at its four facilities.

“On Monday of next week, other facilities are coming online as well, so there is a rollout over the next few days and week across the state of screening clinics for COVID-19,” he said. “Now, these are not clinics where you can just walk up if you think you want to be screened.”

Raethel said the clinics require a physician order or directive.

Raethel said as of Friday, actual testing for COVID-19 can only be done at the state laboratory and Tripler Army Medical Center, but specimens collected by Diagnostic Laboratory Services and Clinical Labs of Hawaii are shipped to the mainland for testing.

However, both labs and Kaiser Permanente are working to get the capability to test in the state, he said.

In other COVID-19 updates Friday:

• The state Department of Health recommended that large, crowded gatherings or public events that include more than 100 people — including concerts, conferences, profession college and school sporting events — be postponed or canceled.

• Statewide there have been 45 negative tests for the disease, and seven people under investigation still have tests pending. No new cases have been confirmed beyond the initial presumptive positive results reported March 6 and March 8.

• The DOH said testing on 31 statewide random samples was completed Friday, and all were negative for COVID-19. This was the first time random testing was done in Hawaii.

“This is good news for Hawaii as positive results would have indicated ‘community spread’ of the disease,” the DOH said in a statement. “While we cannot rule out community spread, the negative results are an encouraging benchmark.”

Community spread is defined as cases that cannot be traced back to a traveler or those who came in contact with someone who has been affected by the coronavirus.

• The Hawaii High School Athletic Association in conjunction with its member leagues — the Big Island Interscholastic Federation, Interscholastic League of Honolulu, Kauai Interscholastic Federation, Maui Interscholastic League, and the Oahu Interscholastic Association — announced that effective Monday all interscholastic competition will be suspended indefinitely. (See Sports for more.)

• Cruise Lines International Association announced that it is temporarily suspending cruise ship operations from U.S. ports of call for 30 days. The announcement means that all 10 cruise ships from various companies scheduled to visit Hilo through April 12 have been cancelled. All cruises to Kailua-Kona during that timeframe also have been suspended.

• In response to concerns circulating in Hawaii about service disruptions, Matson announced that all operations will continue uninterrupted, but the company said it is closely monitoring developments and following reporting and prevention directives for maritime operations.

“Matson intends to maintain all service schedules as normal with three arrivals a week to Honolulu and twice a week calls to each neighbor island port,” the company said in a statement. “Matson is committed to taking all appropriate steps to ensure the continuation of services, including the deployment of reserve vessels if necessary to continue meeting the needs of our customers.”

• Hawaiian Airlines said it will cut capacity by 8% to 10% next month and by 15% to 20% in May as demand for air travel drops because of the coronavirus, the Associated Press reported.

CEO Peter Ingram told employees in a letter the company will cut costs by deferring nonessential aircraft painting and renegotiating vendor rates. The airline also is instituting a hiring freeze, and senior executives and board members are taking compensation cuts of 10% to 20% through at least June.

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Earlier this month, Hawaiian suspended flights from South Korea and reduced flights to Japan. ”

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

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