State encourages use of telehealth services to maintain social distancing

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  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald Friends chat a safe distance apart while hanging out Thursday by Hilo Bay.

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald Stephanie and Jeremy Bertram talk while eating lunch Thursday by Hilo Bay.

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald A shopper leaves with produce from the Hilo Farmers Market on Thursday in Hilo.

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald Tyler Bloom works on a drawing outside on a makeshift desk to change up monotony Thursday in Hilo.

The state Department of Health launched a new online portal compiling resources for residents to conduct health-related appointments remotely.

In order to maintain social distancing while remaining healthy, the state is encouraging residents to use videoconferencing to meet with health care providers and has partnered with the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine to generate a list of providers throughout the state offering telehealth services.

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The DOH’s new telehealth web page — www.hawaiicovid19/telehealth — also includes a link to a virtual triage page where users can be interviewed by health professionals remotely to conduct a free online screening for COVID-19.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said there are thousands of physicians statewide who can conduct a wide range of medical procedures remotely, from post-surgery checkups to dermatology appointments and more.

“You’re not going to be able to get a colonoscopy through telehealth,” Green said during a news conference Thursday. “However, we can still talk to you about when to do these procedures.”

Health care providers also announced Thursday that they have been bolstering their own telehealth offerings as the spread of COVID-19 worsens.

Jennifer Diesman, senior vice president of the Hawaii Medical Service Association, advised enrollees to use HMSA Online Care, an online portal that can connect users with hundreds of providers statewide, while Med-QUEST Administrator Judy Mohr Peterson announced many of Med-QUEST’s telehealth services are now available via telephone, in order to serve patients without adequate internet services for a videoconference.

Green praised the perseverance of Hawaii residents Thursday, saying “the curve is flattening” — referencing a graph depicting the number of COVID-19 cases through time — and urged residents to “stay the course.”

Eleven new COVID-19 cases were reported Thursday, down from the 13 reported Wednesday, which Green said is a good sign.

Gov. David Ige said the state does not yet meet proposed criteria set by President Donald Trump for a phased reopening of the state — those criteria, unveiled Thursday, require a downward trajectory of reported COVID-19 cases during the course of 14 days, among other things.

The governor and the state’s mayors are discussing when the best time to reopen might be. However, Ige said the current lockdown policies are sufficient to handle incoming travelers, should other states reopen before Hawaii.

“No one has barred nonessential travel anywhere,” Ige said. “Our focus has been on what we can control, and we can control a quarantine once travelers visit our islands. Our primary focus is looking at how we can ensure that the 14-day mandatory self-quarantine that we have in place is enforced effectively.

“So it doesn’t really matter what happens with the president and the rest of the country. I do believe that the 14-day mandatory quarantine has been most effective in reducing significantly the volume of traffic coming into the islands.”

Passenger arrivals statewide are down 99% from last year.

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On Wednesday, 764 people arrived in the state by plane, 300 of whom were National Guard personnel returning from a deployment. The remainder were visitors (105), residents or intended residents, flight crews or those in transit to another destination.

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

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