More than 500 people were tested for COVID-19 on Saturday at a drive-thru site in Waipio set up in response to recent outbreaks in the area.
Dr. Scott Miscovich, owner of Premier Medical Group Hawaii, which operated the site at the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex, said he approached the city about holding the event because of recent clusters that include cases connected to a pastor in Waipahu, a nursing home and a low-income housing property.
“This is the heart of where our clusters on Oahu have been occurring,” he said, adding the recent cases have been within a roughly 5-square-mile area. “You need to make it accessible and available.”
Miscovich said the drive-thru event would help slow the spread of the virus by offering broad-based testing in conjunction with the state’s contact-tracing efforts.
On Saturday, only six new cases of the coronavirus were reported — five on Oahu and one on Kauai — following three days of double-digit totals. There were 17 new cases reported Friday and 16 both Thursday and Wednesday. The state’s death toll from COVID-19 remained at 18 following Friday’s report of the first fatality in Hawaii since early May.
About 5% of Hawaii’s population has been tested for the virus, with about 1.2% of the roughly 75,000 tests coming back positive.
“We’re seeing spread that is associated with the public letting their guard down,” Miscovich said. “I’m just very concerned.”
He said the state could be in a “grim situation” come October and November if officials do not take aggressive action to slow the spread as the economy reopens.
“We need to do everything we can to not let that happen,” he said. “If we do not do it right, we could be talking about numbers that are surging like the mainland. We need to not let those numbers surge.”
He said he supports the pre-travel coronavirus test for incoming travelers that will allow them to bypass the state’s 14-day quarantine with approved negative results from tests taken within 72 hours of their trip. Gov. David Ige announced the program would begin Aug. 1.
On Friday, visitor arrivals fell to 333, the lowest number this month, the Hawaii Tourism Authority reported. Visitors were about 26% of the 1,273 people who arrived that day, including 324 returning residents. Friday’s arrivals were a trickle of the 35,000 passengers who were arriving at this time last year.
Miscovich said more testing and screening will be needed with cases rising on the mainland. He noted that four states reported record highs for the coronavirus on Saturday: Florida, Georgia, Nevada and South Carolina. In places on the mainland with recent spikes, more than 10% of those tested were found to be positive, he said.
He added that the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week the total number of people infected by the virus might actually be 10 times higher than the country’s 2.4 million positive results, or about 24 million people.
“We need to take that seriously,” he said.
On Saturday, Miscovich was using a rapid coronavirus test that can produce a test with about 93% accuracy within 15 minutes. The Quidel Sofia 2 test uses a nasal and mouth swab to test for the virus’ antigen. A COVID-19 nasal swab is still needed to confirm a positive result.
He said he used the rapid testing on about a dozen people with more acute symptoms, but was not able to immediately report how many of those people tested positive.
Safety for workers
About 1,000 members of Unite Here Local 5, the union for hospitality and health care workers, had planned to be tested at the drive-thru on Saturday, said Bryant de Venecia, a communications organizer with the union.
He said union leadership and members have been asking state legislators for help with ensuring companies provide safe working conditions for hotel employees when they return to work.
De Venecia said the Kahala Hotel & Resort, which is planning to reopen before other large hotel chains on Oahu, is screening workers and has committed to stringent cleaning and safety protocols within each department.
He said the 12,000-member union hopes Kahala’s model is adopted by other hotels such as those operated by Marriott, Hilton and Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts, owner of five large properties in the islands, including the Sheraton Waikiki. The union hasn’t heard back from those hotels.
“It is a public health and safety issue,” de Venecia said. “It’s not only a tourism-centric issue. Our workers … go back to their communities, so if they are compromised, we are compromising the broader health of our state.
“This is our workers having a peace of mind that if they get called back to work they don’t have the virus,” he said. “They want to get tested. They want access to testing.”
The union came out with a set of guidelines called “Safe Hotels, Safe Hawaii” for hotels to follow to keep employees safe, according to de Venecia. Some of the topics covered include how to clean rooms, how to deal with public areas, personal protective equipment for employees, and types of employee training that are needed. He said the union also wants employers to adopt regular testing.
“If you’re not going to do that, we’re going to start because it’s needed,” he said. “The safety of the industry of frontline workers is the safety of the community.”