In an effort to contain Oahu’s triple-digit, three-week surge in new coronavirus cases, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced Tuesday that the city, in partnership with the state and federal governments, is launching an islandwide effort to conduct 5,000 free COVID-19 tests per day for two weeks, with the goal of testing 60,000 people.
The surge tests will be provided to participants beginning today through the U.S. government’s Coronavirus Task Force, Caldwell said at a press conference in front of the Honolulu Fire Department headquarters. HFD and the Honolulu Police Department will manage logistical planning and traffic flow at the test sites.
“It doesn’t take away from the current testing capacity that we have in the state, but will give us access to 5,000 people a day for two weeks in places we wouldn’t normally get to test,” Caldwell said of the surge testing.
“We’re focusing on the communities that have been the hardest hit,” said U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who has been visiting Oahu to help coordinate the program. He learned that Filipinos have a high percentage of people dying from this virus, and Pacific Islanders are only 4% of the population but 30% of the cases.
“That is astounding to me,” Adams said
But one does not have to be a resident of the community where a testing site is located in order to be tested, and Adams urged all residents to sign up for the tests because Hawaii, now in the yellow zone of 5%-10% positivity rates, is “at a turning point” where things could either very quickly improve or tip into the red zone of exponential community spread.
“This is an excellent opportunity for concerned Oahu residents to get tested,” said Gov. David Ige, adding, “this mass testing is also a chance to better understand the level of infection across Oahu as our health care system has become increasingly concerned about its capacity to handle the caseload.”
The surge testing would represent a “significant increase” over the 1,000-2,000 daily tests currently performed in the state, Ige said.
And, unlike the standard naso-pharyngeal swab tests, this one is “very simple, easy, it’s not the nasal swab that goes way in, but (is inserted) just 3/4 inch within your nose, and does not hurt at all,” Adams said.
At Adams’ invitation, Lt. Gov. Josh Green stepped up and demonstrated how the test, which can be self-administered, works, twirling the swab around in each nostril, then putting it in a tube.
Tests will be available to those who are asymptomatic but worry they may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, as well as those who have symptoms and those who would just like to know their status. Participants must be at least 5 years old, and those under 18 must have a parent or legal guardian present to provide consent, a city press release stated.
Testing procedures and results, which are expected to be available in as early as three days following a test, will be kept confidential, the release said, and every individual getting tested also will be given five cloth face coverings.
“Bring as many family members as you can, we’re trying to be inclusive to get 5,000 tests a day,” Adams said, noting that other states participating in federal surge testing have failed to meet that goal and “I want Hawaii to be the first.”
Before Hawaii, Adams visited cities and counties in Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Indiana and Alabama, a spokesperson for the Surgeon General’s Office said in an email.
In his first three days in Hawaii, Adams said he observed the “majority” of people wearing masks and keeping social distance. He said he was hopeful the state could, if all cooperate during this two-week program of expanded testing, reenter the green zone of less than 5% positivity that would permit societal reopening.
The announcement of the free COVID testing partnership on Tuesday came on the same day that Caldwell reintroduced a stay-at-home, work-at-home order.
HPD Capt. Sonny Santos encouraged people to carpool to test sites if possible. Most sites will be drive-thru, but “some sites will be identified for walk-ins only” for those who can’t drive, he said.
Santos also asked people to preregister if possible, “so we can flow the lines properly.”
Those without internet access can register on-site using iPads. Those lacking email addresses, which are required to register and receive test results, can arrange ahead of time to use the email of a trusted friend, Adams suggested.
Testing will be available today from 9 a.m. through 4 p.m. at Kaneohe District Park and Leeward Community College. Thursday’s sites will be Ewa Mahiko, Waianae and Kalakaua district parks.
On the Big Island Thursday, free testing will be given at Kawananakoa Gymnasium in Hilo.
A full site list is available at doineedacovid19test.com, which is also where you go to preregister for a testing site and time slot and log on to obtain test results.