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State halts beachwater bacteria testing for duration of coronavirus shelter-at-home order

All routine coastal beach water monitoring has been suspended, in order to comply with Gov. David Ige’s shelter-in-place order aimed at halting the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Hawaii State Department of Health announced today.

The sampling and testing of beach waters for enterococcus, a fecal indicator bacteria that indicates the presence of pathogens that can cause waterborne illness, will not resume until the emergency stay-at-home order is lifted.

People can still swim, but at their own risk.

“Although all State and County parks have been closed for public gatherings, the public is still allowed to swim, surf, and recreate in the water, for exercise, while being mindful of social distancing requirements,” the DOH statement said.

“No updated water quality testing information will be available to the public to inform personal risk in recreating in the water, so please use common sense and stay safe.”

Until now, one could check department’s Clean Water Branch website for advisories against swimming at beaches where routing monitoring found the risk threshold of 130 enterococci per 100 milliliters had been exceeded.

One good common sense rule is to stay out of brown waters, which indicate pollution that has washed from land into the ocean after heavy rains. “If it’s brown, turn around,” the statement said, noting that brown water beach advisories will continue to be posted at eha-cloud.doh.hawaii.gov/cwb .

The Surfrider Foundation’s Oahu Blue Water Task Force has also stopped monitoring bacteria at Hawaii beaches due to the shelter-in-place rule, said Christina Comfort, a water-testing volunteer for the nonprofit environmental organization.

“We were asked to suspend by the University of Hawai‘i, (because) it would violate social distancing orders to work in the lab right now,” Comfort said, referring to the lab where volunteers took water samples for biweekly or monthly testing.

For more information, visit oahu.surfrider.org/.

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