State’s success in mitigating the spread of coronavirus could result in easing of restrictions

  • Julie Janke, a medical technologist at Principle Health Systems and SynerGene Laboratory, loads samples to be tested for COVID-19 antibodies Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in Houston. The company, which opened two new testing sites Tuesday, is now offering a new COVID-19 antibody test developed by Abbott Laboratories. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

  • A man’s blood is collected for testing of coronavirus antibodies at a drive through testing site in Hempstead, N.Y., Tuesday, April 14, 2020. The test, being administered by Somos Community Care, takes approximately 15 minutes and tests for the presence of antibodies in a person’s blood, signifying that they may have some immunity to the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

  • ANDERSON

  • IGE

  • GREEN

State officials were optimistic Wednesday because the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Hawaii is in decline.

Gov. David Ige and Lt. Gov. Josh Green announced during a news conference that “the curve has flattened” a month after Ige’s stay-at-home order and mandatory 14-day quarantines for travelers went into effect.

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Only four new cases were reported statewide Wednesday, and no new cases have been reported on Kauai for two weeks.

Although Green acknowledged there will continue to be new cases and fatalities as time goes by, Ige said because of the successful efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, the state might be able to conduct a phased reopening of its economy.

“We are looking at a number of conditions that have to be present to allow us to release and reduce some of the restrictions on our community,” Ige said. “First, we have to have a quality testing program in place … we have to see 14 days of managing new positive contacts … and the third condition is that our health care system can manage the numbers who are ill.”

With all three of those conditions currently met, Ige said, the final thing to consider is how great a risk is presented by any given business seeking to reopen, which he is discussing with the state’s mayors.

In addition, Clinical Labs of Hawaii will begin conducting antibody tests throughout the state starting today.

Those tests, which measure the antibodies of an individual’s blood to determine whether the individual has been infected with or recovered from COVID-19, will help the state screen individuals arriving in Hawaii, among other things, Green said.

“It is important to reiterate that results from antibody testing should not be used as the sole basis to diagnose or exclude (COVID-19) infection or to inform infection status or immunity,” wrote Jerry Hussong, chief executive officer of Clinical Labs’ parent company Sonic Healthcare USA, in a statement. “Follow-up, concurrent or alternative testing with molecular diagnostic testing should be considered for patient management if clinically indicated.”

Green confirmed that the state Department of Health was reticent to recommend antibody tests previously out of concerns about their accuracy; however, the tests conducted by Clinical Labs are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and are generally understood to be more accurate than others, he said.

State Health Director Bruce Anderson added that antibody tests can help determine how widely the pandemic has spread within a community and can be used to identify sources of blood plasma from people who recovered from the disease.

Anderson explained that plasma donated from individuals whose antibodies responded to COVID-19 can help other infected patients fight off the virus.

Such tests will be helpful as the state inevitably begins to welcome more visitors to the islands.

Ige said he thinks the state’s 14-day quarantine requirement for travelers is robust enough to withstand a greater influx of arrivals, and added that the requirement will not be lifted immediately.

“We continue to make improvements (to the quarantine system) every day,” Ige said. “We’re working to have better coordination between the screening that’s occurring at the airport, the (Hawaii Tourism Authority), who’s following up with the visitors … and with law enforcement so we can identify who didn’t show up at the quarantine site.”

Green said maintaining policies to mitigate the spread of the disease will pay dividends on multiple levels.

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“If we continue to succeed in that way, we have the first benefit, the obvious benefit, of not losing any of our loved ones,” Green said. “And then we have the secondary benefit when this ends … of being able to say we were the safest, healthiest state in the country and maybe (safest) destination in the world, and that’s going to speed up our recovery, too.”

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

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