Green talks COVID-19, tourism with Fauci

  • In this screenshot, Lt. Gov. Josh Green and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, talk about the reopening of the state’s economy during a virtual conversation streamed on ‘Olelo on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020.

“The reality is, no matter what you do, there are going to be infected people who slip through the cracks,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, about the planned Oct. 15 reopening of Hawaii to tourism.

During a half-hour Wednesday morning conversation with Lt. Gov. Josh Green streamed on ‘Olelo, Fauci said there are no easy answers as to how to balance the need to reopen the state’s economy, which is dependent on the visitor industry, and the need to keep the infection rate of COVID-19 in the community as low as possible.

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“You’re trying to open up the islands. You don’t want to get another surge of cases, because you’ve done so well in putting the lid on where you are,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Green, who’s also a doctor. “So you have the people who are there saying, ‘We don’t want to, you know, reinsert COVID into where we live.’ On the other hand, if we don’t open up, the economy is going to crash even more than it’s crashing.

“The critical issue is, because you have such a low level of infection right now, that you should be able to handle that and prevent that from blipping up. You’ve got to be able to prevent that from happening. If you do that, you can accept that you’re going to have — some time or other after opening up, regardless of what you do — some people who are infected.”

Gov. David Ige’s reopening plan hinges upon trans-Pacific air arrivals getting a negative nucleic acid amplification test for coronavirus prior to departure but within 72 hours of arrival in the islands.

Neighbor island mayors would like to see additional testing after arrival, especially Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim, who said Tuesday “a one-test system is not an acceptable risk for the people of Hawaii.”

Officials have projected an influx of about 5,000 visitors a day once the state reopens — which, if testing is done here, would lead to about 8,000 tests a day, about twice of the state’s current testing capability.

“We’re about to have some added pressure as we have travelers come back to Hawaii,” Green said. “… We have a finite number of tests. Who should we be testing first and foremost? Should we be testing everybody? Should we just test people with symptoms? What’s the recommendation?”

Fauci suggested the state could acquire rapid-response tests, which he said are about 80% accurate, and are cheaper than more sensitive tests that include laboratory work.

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“You’re not going to get everybody,” Fauci told Green. “But statistically, you’re going to dramatically diminish the likelihood that an infected person enters. Or, as you suggested, surveillance. Don’t test everybody, but pick out representative ones to see what’s coming into the (islands). And special attention to the ones that might have been at greater risk, like college students coming back from hot areas.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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