Drive-through virus testing begins in Hilo

  • Photo credit: Elena Cabatu Hilo Medical Center Dr. Anna Maisu takes a sample from a patient on Tuesday.

  • Mike Brestovansky/Tribune-Herald Staff work to process patient records and samples at the drive-through testing site.

Thirty-five people were tested for COVID-19 on Tuesday during Hilo Medical Center’s first day of drive-through testing.

A mobile testing unit in the hospital parking lot adjacent to the Hawaii Pacific Oncology Center opened at 10 a.m. Tuesday, taking quick samples of patients in their cars to test for cases of the novel coronavirus that has spread around the world.

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Most of those patients arrived in the first two hours of the four-hour testing window, with the 27th patient being tested at about noon.

The site is a collaboration between HMC, Clinical Labs of Hawaii and the state Department of Health.

The model for the testing sites, which minimizes person-to-person contact, is for the protection of the testing site’s employees, who were relocated from the hospital and Clinical Labs of Hawaii, said East Hawaii Regional Chief Information Officer Kris Wilson.

“This is not surveillance testing,” Wilson said. “Right now, we’re only accepting testing orders sent electronically by a patient’s doctor or through fax.”

Whether any of the patients will test positive for COVID-19 remains to be seen. The mainland labs that receive the samples typically take a week to process them, and could take significantly longer now that similar testing is occurring throughout the country, Wilson said.

However, Wilson said the testing site is prepared to continue operating as long as testing kits and protective equipment for the employees lasts. Currently, she added, the site has enough test kits to continue operating for four hours a day, and might expand hours depending on the situation.

Assistant hospital administrator Lisa Shiroma said HMC is considering additional testing locations, particularly in Puna, and suggested testing in Puna could begin as early as next week.

While the testing site has made significant measures to protect its own staff, Wilson said patients can do more to maintain the safety of their friends and family. Wilson said some patients arrived with children in their vehicles, for example, which is not ideal considering the patients are suspected of possibly having an extremely contagious virulent disease.

“Ideally, try to get someone to do child care before you come here,” said HMC spokeswoman Elena Cabatu.

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Cabatu also said that the testing site is for drive-through service only. Patients referred by a doctor who arrive by bus or on foot are advised to go to the HMC emergency room instead.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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