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Mayor Kirk Caldwell says city will pursue aggressive testing for coronavirus

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Mayor Kirk Caldwell Tuesday said the city would continue to pursue aggressive testing for COVID-19, and offered an overview of some businesses that could start reopening during the coronavirus pandemic.

Caldwell said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon that the city would continue to pursue a contract with Everlywell of Texas to provide coronavirus test kits for local community health centers after the state Health Department raised concerns.

The city will try to resolve some of the concerns about the company raised by the state, and will at the same time pursue contracts with others, particularly local labs and institutions, he said. But there needs to be more testing, and more aggressive testing, he said, including the testing of both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals.

“Testing is the key to opening up,” said Caldwell. “It’s the most critical component of opening up — it’s how the government protects the public from the spread of COVID-19, and this testing has to be aggressive, it has to be repeated and it has to be done often. It has to be contact tracing following where the positives are, and testing those who they came in contact with, and isolating those who test positive.”

Caldwell last week announced the city would hold off on spending $2 million to purchase 10,000 coronavirus test kits from Everlywell that were to be transported by UPS to community health centers due to the state’s concerns.

Initially, the state Health Department had said in a letter that it objected to the use of Everlywell because the company did not have emergency use approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Also, the Health Department said its labs were not properly certified.

Dr. Frank Ong, Everlywell’s chief medical and scientific officer, sent a letter to the state Health Department refuting those allegations.

Upon further discussion, Caldwell said the Health Department has backed away from these two claims, but that it still has concerns about the company’s turnaround time for lab tests, and the proper reporting of the results, which he considers “customer service” issues.

Still, Caldwell defended the city’s efforts to pursue a contract with Everlywell, and said it has done its due diligence. At the same time, he said he appreciated the state Health Department for bringing these issues to the city’s attention, and that the two parties had had a positive meeting on the matter on Monday.

Both parties agreed it was very important to provide coronavirus testing options for community health centers, which serve individuals that live in public housing.

“It’s clear that Mayor Caldwell’s decision making has been based on the best science available,” said Everlywell spokeswoman Christina Song, following the press conference. “The test Everlywell is offering is also based on the best science available, with accuracy that meets or exceeds the performance criteria set forth by the FDA.”

She said the test is a molecular polymerase chain reaction test — the same methodology as the majority of diagnostic tests being used for COVID-19 in the U.S. Tuesday.

“PCR testing is considered the gold standard, frontline testing method for COVID-19, trusted by hospitals across America,” she said. “The World Health Organization’s and CDC’s test kits both use this method, as does Everlywell.”

Caldwell said there was no set deadline for pursuing the contract with Everlywell, and that it would continue to be an option, along with others.

In addition, Caldwell said some low-risk businesses could possibly start reopening May 1, based on the public health principles outlined by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The reopening of the city’s parks for exercise on Saturday went very well, he noted, other than a few citations, and most residents were compliant with rules.

As long as the city’s coronavirus risk assessment continues to be “sunny,” these low-risk businesses could reopen, with modifications, he said.

Some low-risk businesses that could reopen include: automated services such as car washes; mobile service providers, where there is no interaction between the service provider and the customer, such as pet grooming; services that are provided on a one-on-one basis, such as a tutor or piano teacher with appropriate physical distancing and face masks; car dealerships by appointment only so long as no test driving is conducted with a sales agent; certain real estate services, including appointment only viewings; and public and private golf courses.

Real estate services would have to be done by appointment only, with no more than three people at a time, and with appropriate social distancing, he said. Both public and private golf courses could reopen with appropriate social distancing and hygiene guidelines.

“As long as it remains sunny and we don’t see any storm clouds on the horizon, which testing will provide, we’ll start opening up the least risky types of businesses with modifications,” said Caldwell.

The city will gradually move to open up businesses at higher risk category levels, where appropriate, he said, while conducting aggressive testing and contact tracing to protect public health.

These suggestions will go to Gov. David Ige, said Caldwell, before actual orders are amended. Caldwell said he would submit proposed changes for businesses to the governor, as well as other county mayors, to get their input as early as possible.

“So we continue to talk,” said Caldwell. “Today is about the kind of things we’re looking at and I think it’s appropriate to share with the public and the business community the kind of things we’re looking at to get input from them. Of course no action will be taken without the authority of the governor.”

Watch the new conference above.

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