The majority of the seven new COVID-19 cases reported Wednesday on Hawaii Island are in Hilo, according to state Health Director Bruce Anderson.
“We have five cases in Hilo and two cases elsewhere, on the south side of the Big Island,” Anderson said during a media conference.
Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Talmadge Magno said in his morning message that the new cases “are not associated with any known clusters and are considered community spread.”
“It has been noted that many have not been following the policies of gatherings, distancing and wearing of face coverings,” Magno said.
He said the Big Island has 23 active cases. One person is hospitalized, and the remaining active cases are in isolation and being monitored by the state Department of Health.
According to Anderson, at least some of the Big Island cases “may have been exposed to others who have been traveling.”
“We do have travelers coming in,” he said. “Often we’ve seen cases on the neighbor islands associated with travelers or people who have taken care of travelers.”
DOH reported 261 new cases statewide Wednesday, as well as two additional coronavirus-related deaths, bringing the death toll to 43. Anderson described the decedents as an elderly male and female, both on Oahu.
Anderson said Wednesday’s count included 56 cases associated with the outbreak at Oahu Community Correctional Center, 37 of which hadn’t been previously reported “due to laboratory testing issues on the mainland.”
According to the state Department of Public Safety, as of Wednesday there were 231 inmates and 36 staff who’ve tested positive at the Honolulu jail.
There are still no reported cases of positive COVID-19 tests among inmates or staff at Hawaii Community Correctional Center in Hilo.
Statewide daily case reports have been in triple digits for the past several weeks, and Gov. David Ige said when the surge in positive test results occurred, “It was clear that we needed to ramp up our contact tracing, and I directed the Department of Health to do so.”
Well-placed medical professionals have publicly criticized what they describe as a tardy and inadequate response by the state in its contact tracing of positive COVID-19 cases. Those include Lt. Gov. Josh Green, a Big Island physician, and Dr. Scott Miscovich of Premier Medical Group, who’s spearheaded most of the pop-up coronavirus testing clinics statewide.
Both have estimated the state needs upward of 500 trained contact tracers to handle the caseload.
There are currently 96 people tracing contacts on Oahu and a combined 30 doing so in Kauai, Maui and Hawaii counties. Another 13 staff members support their efforts.
Ige and other officials conducted Wednesday’s press conference at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu, where they unveiled a new contact tracing center in a spacious ballroom where there is room for social distancing. Those working there include Hawaii National Guard personnel.
“One of the significant hurdles to address was the lack of physical space at the Department of Health offices,” Ige said. “I know that some of you have seen the limited space, and we needed to find additional space to house the contact tracers.
“The convention center has been made available, and the department has been working over the last week or so to set up this facility. … I’m confident that the department has the support that it needs to manage the current demand for contact tracing, and to continue to accelerate and add more investigators and contact tracing staff.”
Anderson said the department’s receipt of $50 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding during the next 30 months “will support not only contact tracing, but the expansion of our entire … program, including a laboratory program.”
According to Anderson, the first expenditure from the CARES funding was negotiating a $2.5 million contract with the University of Hawaii to train contact tracers.
“So far, they’ve trained over 400 individuals, and many of them are actually working here today,” Anderson said. “… Most of the remaining funds are going toward increasing our data management surveillance programs, as well as increasing our laboratory support capabilities.”
As for contact tracing on the Big Island, Dr. Emily Roberson — who was hired in mid-July as DOH Disease Investigation Branch chief and has taken over the helm of contact tracing efforts from State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park — said there are currently “10 individuals working on contact tracing.”
She added two are DOH District Health Office staff and the others are public health nurses within the department.
“The goal is to contact everybody,” Roberson said. “But that prioritization is there as we’re ramping up just to make sure that we’re directing all of our efforts in the way that is most likely to prevent these population-level outcomes like outbreaks and clusters from occurring.”
Premier Medical Group is doing free COVID-19 testing Friday at the University of Hawaii at Hilo gymnasium. The walk-up clinic will accommodate UH-Hilo students from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and the general public from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
No insurance is necessary to be tested, but insured individuals requesting testing are asked to bring their insurance cards. Face coverings and social distancing are required.
For more information, call Civil Defense at 935-0031.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.