Drive-through options dwindle as COVID testing approach changes

  • KELSEY WALLING/Tribune-Herald file photo Carrie Sandlin performs a COVID-19 test May 29 on a person who came through the drive-through testing site across from Hilo Medical Center.

As Hawaii’s COVID-19 case count continues to climb, drive-through testing opportunities in East Hawaii are dwindling.

Hilo Medical Center’s drive-through COVID-19 testing site, established across from the hospital on Waianuenue Avenue, closed July 2, more than three months after it opened.

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Assistant hospital administrator Kris Wilson said HMC was in uncharted territory, never having dealt with a pandemic on this scale. The testing site was a response to the community’s need for a consistent testing method early on, when there weren’t a lot of testing options available, she explained.

“A lot of the community did turn to their local hospitals to provide guidance and felt that was our piece in the support model everyone was trying to develop … ,” she said.

At the same time, HMC spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said some doctor’s offices were beginning to close, partly because of the lack of personal protective equipment.

“We felt at this point, the community had (started) to open up again, and primary care offices are now more available to their patients,” Wilson said. “… For the most part, everyone is learning how to operate with COVID-19 in the community.”

According to Wilson, test kits remain available for primary care providers and urgent care.

“If they choose to, they can test in their offices. That wasn’t the case back in March.”

Screening and testing will continue to be available at Puna Community Medical Center, which is part of a network of clinics in the East Hawaii Region of the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. — which also includes HMC, Ka‘u Hospital and Hale Ho‘ola Hamakua — as well as HMC’s emergency department.

Testing, with a referral from a doctor, is also available at Clinical Labs Hawaii locations at Ka‘u Hospital, Kohala Hospital, on Lanihuli Street, at Walua Professional Center and Waimea Center.

HMC, however, still requires COVID-19 tests for all pre-operative patients, which can be done at Clinical Labs’ outpatient locations.

All told, Wilson said HMC performed 1,700 tests at its drive-through site, although higher referral numbers were initially anticipated.

Testing efforts could, however, ramp up again if necessary, but those decisions would depend on the situation.

“We try to stay ahead of the curve. We make every effort to be incredibly aware of everything that’s happening in the community,” Wilson said. “I think we’re ready to respond appropriately if needed, so that’s really where we stand.”

Premier Medical Group also rolled back its drive-through testing efforts around Hawaii Island.

Hawaii County Medical Director Kaohimanu Dang Akiona said drive-through testing is no longer the right approach, and the organization will instead pivot to a more targeted effort that can be scaled up or down.

The group is working with more organizations now, such as private schools and the University of Hawaii at Hilo, to set up screenings for targeted groups. Those screenings could also be opened to the community. Premier Medical also is going directly to homeless and other high-risk communities.

With increased testing opportunities available, Akiona said her team felt comfortable reducing the availability of drive-through testing.

“My team was pretty tired, doing heavy-duty screenings (for) two and a half months straight.”

She said Premier Medical is poised to offer drive-through testing again, should a big outbreak happen.

COVID-19 screening and testing locations include:

• North Hawaii Community Hospital emergency room, 67-1125 Mamalahoa Highway, Waimea; Monday-Friday 9 a.m.- 1 p.m. Bring ID and insurance card. Doctor requisition required or ER costs will be incurred.

• Premier Medical Group, multiple locations. As needed. Bring ID and insurance card, no appointment needed. No charge.

• Hale Ho‘ola Hamakua, 45-547 Plumeria St., Honokaa; open 24-hours. Bring ID and insurance card. Admittance required. Not a community testing facility.

• Bay Clinic, 1178 Kinoole St., Hilo; 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Member patients by appointment. No drive-through. Stay in vehicle. Seen regardless of ability to pay.

• Clinical Labs of Hawaii, 33 Lanihuli St., Hilo; Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Bring ID and insurance card. By appointment only. Asymptomatic patients only.

• Hilo Urgent Care, 670 Kekuanaoa St., Hilo; Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Bring ID and insurance card. Stay in vehicle. Check in at kiosk.

• Bay Clinic, 16192 Pilimua St., Keaau; 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Member patients by appointment. No drive-through. Stay in vehicle. Seen regardless of ability to pay.

• Bay Clinic, 15-2866 Pahoa Village Road, Building C; 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Member patients by appointment. No drive-through. Stay in vehicle. Seen regardless of ability to pay.

• Keaau Urgent Care, 16-590 Old Volcano Road, #B, Keaau; Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Bring ID and insurance card.

• Puna Community Medical Center, 15-2662 Pahoa Village Road, Suite 303-305, Pahoa; Monday-Friday 7:45 a.m.- 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Bring ID and insurance card. Symptomatic patients and re-operative testing also conducted. $246 without insurance.

• Bay Clinic, 95-5583 Mamalahoa Highway, Naalehu; 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Member patients by appointment. No drive-through. Stay in vehicle. Seen regardless of ability to pay.

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• Ka‘u Hospital, 1 Kamani St., Pahala; Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Bring ID and insurance card. Pre-Op and emergency room patients only. Screening conducted outside in tent.

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

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