Green criticizes lack of testing as Hawaii cases rise

  • GREEN

  • GABBARD

Hawaii’s COVID-19 count increased to 16 on Wednesday, with the identification of two new positive results for Oahu residents who traveled outside of the state.

In its daily COVID-19 update, the state Department of Health said the department is monitoring these individuals and supervising their isolation, as well as the self-quarantine of their family members.

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No additional information was immediately available about the Big Island’s single case, which was identified Tuesday, other than the patient is an adult traveler.

According to the DOH, all cases that have tested positive in Hawaii are related to travel.

One case announced Monday was a Kualoa Ranch tour operator who had not traveled, but was around travelers daily.

Three family members from the individual’s household tested negative for the coronavirus, which has rapidly spread around the world since it was first detected in China late last year.

“There is no evidence of community spread in Hawaii at this time,” the DOH said.

Community spread refers to when people have been infected in a particular area, including some who aren’t sure how or where they were exposed.

State public health officials think community spread will eventually occur in Hawaii.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, a Big Island physician, said during a town hall phone call with U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard on Wednesday afternoon that he thinks there already has been community spread of the virus.

While the confirmed cases have been related to travelers, Green said that until last week “we tested almost no one,” which he feels is a mistake.

Gabbard said the failure to do broad, mass testing as seen in countries such as South Korea is a shortcoming.

“To be quite honest, there’s no sufficient answer why the United States is so far behind other countries” in terms of testing capabilities, she said.

According to the DOH, nine people under investigation have tests pending.

Meanwhile, Hilo Medical Center’s mobile testing unit, located adjacent to the Hawaii Pacific Oncology Center, opened Tuesday.

HMC spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said the hospital screened 34 people Tuesday and 37 on Wednesday. Turnaround for results is four to five days.

Also on Wednesday:

• The DOH said it is “fully endorsing” Gov. David Ige’s directives to close establishments that typically attract large numbers of people.

Ige on Tuesday recommended restaurants move to a takeout/delivery service model and requested bars and clubs to shut down.

However, these are not mandates, which would have consequences for noncompliance.

• Hawaii’s public schools are closed for an extended spring break, and the state Department of Education said Wednesday that students are anticipated to return April 7. Previously they were set to return March 30.

The DOE also will close its offices, except for essential functions, effective today.

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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

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