Prominent Hawaii doctor says state should delay plan for trans-Pacific visitors

  • MISCOVICH

One of Hawaii’s most visible physicians on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic said Tuesday that Gov. David Ige should rethink the state’s plan to allow out-of-state visitors who arrive with a negative COVID-19 test in hand to bypass a 14-day quarantine starting Aug. 1.

“My recommendation is, make the plans now to stop the opening. Push the plans back at least a month, and let’s take care of the people of Hawaii,” said Dr. Scott Miscovich, president and founder of Premier Medical Group Hawaii, which has locations on Oahu and in Kona. “How do we look at people who are coming off a plane from Arizona, Texas, California, Florida — to name a few — and not feel concerned that just one test is all they’re going to need to guarantee that they’re not going to come and create more spread beyond what we already have?”

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During a media conference Tuesday, the governor bypassed answering directly whether there’s a possibility of reconsidering the start of the pre-testing program for travelers, saying officials are monitoring the record number of cases on the mainland, including in Texas where the number of daily cases topped 10,000 for the first time.

“I want to reassure everybody that the health and well-being of our community will be the highest priority,” Ige said.

The governor added that pre-travel testing would reduce the risk an infected person would enter Hawaii. He said it would be part of a layered screening system that also would include temperature checks at airports.

The state also is working with hotels to have them educate travelers about their public health responsibilities, in addition to the need to protect Hawaii’s natural environment and respect Native Hawaiian culture, he said.

Miscovich, who has conducted numerous drive-through COVID-19 testing clinics on the Big Island, said he recently visited Arizona, where he saw pop-up tent hospitals set up to ease the burden placed on the conventional health care system by burgeoning case numbers.

“I’ve just been to the future … and it’s terrifying. You look at Arizona right now and Texas — it’s just horrific what’s going on there,” Miscovich said.

“We are definitely going in the wrong direction as a state,” he said. “This is very, very concerning to me, at this point. The most concerning part is the randomness of the number of positives. We’ve gone from having definable clusters that we could track and understand where the positives came from and why they could be tracked down to just a few individuals scattered throughout. Now, we are seeing positives throughout, especially Oahu.”

Miscovich said that randomness compounds the difficulty of contact tracing and testing of contacts.

“I was on the phone this morning calling five positives, and every one of them was different. Every one of them was random … in that, they really didn’t know where they got it. That’s problematic,” he said. “There’s about 40% asymptomatic positives, and those people will be spreading.”

Another trend Miscovich finds alarming is the rate of infections in younger people, ages 20-35.

“That is the largest demographic in the entire United States that’s expanding,” he said. “It’s also the largest group that’s showing a burst of hospitalizations, as well as deaths. … You see these group gatherings in bars and restaurants and … half of them don’t have masks on. And indoor gatherings that are so large that, even though they might be spread out, that closed environment is where this respiratory virus spreads.

“The biggest takeaway is individual people must take personal responsibility for stopping this crisis. Governments can only do so much. It has to come down to every one of us understanding that social distancing is important, as well as wearing your masks.”

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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