Thousands of vehicles and their passengers overwhelmed Kaneohe District Park and Leeward Community College as the first day of two scheduled weeks of free COVID-19 testing on Oahu began on Wednesday.
Vehicles at both locations stretched for hundreds of yards — if not for miles at some points — while the occupants burned fuel waiting to self administer the first of what U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said would be a potential 70,000, free nasal swab tests, which are designed to be less invasive and can be done without a doctor’s order.
Eloise Marr and her husband, Jerome, of Pearl City, made an online 1 p.m. appointment at Leeward Community College but turned around and went home after seeing miles of vehicles backed up in both directions trying to get into the college.
Eloise called the experience “a fiasco.”
The couple could not find the end of the line in either direction heading into Leeward Community College and gave up in frustration, knowing there was no way to meet their 1 p.m. appointment.
“What a disaster,” Eloise said. “It was very, very, very frustrating.”
Mayor Kirk Caldwell acknowledged “that we need to do a better job in terms of traffic flow and getting more people in to be tested” and encouraged people to try to be tested at another site over the new several days.
Caldwell said that the Kaneohe District Park testing site had to “shut down” between 30 and 45 minutes Wednesday “to get control and to allow people to get back in line and not cause more traffic and grid lock.”
As the day’s testing neared an end in Kaneohe, traffic also backed up onto Kahekili Highway and slowed traffic.
At Leeward Community College, Caldwell said that he has been in contact with Gov. David Ige about using Aloha Stadium as a testing site sometime over the next two weeks to accommodate large numbers of vehicles.
Caldwell has called surge testing “critical,” along with ramped-up contact tracing as the effort is supported by the White House and Adams, the U.S. surgeon general.
On Wednesday at Leeward Community College Adams said, “I consider this a success. … Of course there are people concerned about the lines and I want to acknowledge that.”
The 14-day testing period, Adams said, is designed to make sure there are enough tests to meet demand and accommodate people who want to be tested.
“What I would say to the people here is do something that we know you all are famous for, especially compared to mainlanders like myself, and that’s be patient and understand that we will work through this and we’ll continue to improve some of the kinks in the system so that we can deliver a better testing experience to each and everyone of you,” Adams said.
Appointments can be made online at doineedacovid19test.com
Earlier in the day, Adams spent 90 minutes touring The Queen’s Medical Center, meeting staff who are caring for COVID-19 patients. Queen’s was operating at 90% capacity on Wednesday and medical center officials urged people to follow safety guidelines to help control the surge of COVID-19 cases.
The first day of the latest round of testing prefaced Caldwell’s “Stay At Home / Work From Home” order that was scheduled to go into effect at 12:01 a.m. this morning.
The order can be found at 808ne.ws/Oahuorder
Several people waiting to be tested said they had no COVID-19 symptoms but wanted to use the offer of free nasal swabs to be assured before resuming work — or to feel more secure among family members as Oahu enters a new level of isolation and social distancing.
“I just want a clean bill of health,” said Charilie Mixon, 72, of Kalihi Valley, who arrived at Kaneohe District Park with his two dogs, Daisy and Oli.
Mixon, a pastor at Hope Chapel Honolulu, said he wanted to be ready when in-person services resume.
But the wait to get tested was agonizing, in many cases.
Ricky Psue of Waikele headed out for a 10 a.m. appointment at Leeward Community College but did not get tested until 1:45 p.m.
“These people don’t know what they’re doing,” he said.
Psue said he needed the test because his employer told him he had to get one before returning to work. He was told he had prolonged exposure to someone at his work who tested positive.
Psue said he came to Leeward because it was close and free.
“But I would have paid $60 at Pali Momi if I knew it was going to be like this,” he said.
Dennis and Charlotte Sakuoka of Mililani said they waited in line for four hours.
They weren’t sick, they said. They wanted to do their share to stop the pandemic.
Asked if they were angry or frustrated about the long wait, Dennis shrugged his shoulders.
“What can you do?”
Alicia Barnard of Waianae waited in her car from 10 a.m. She was finally tested at about 1:45 p.m.
Barnard said she left the state and recently returned. Now, she said, she needs a test to go back to work, so the timing of the free testing event was ideal.
“It’s a big thing that we can all just come to, so it’s kind of convenient for whoever wants to come.” she said.
Those waiting in line had little consensus on Caldwell’s latest order — approved by Ige — to restrict many aspects of Oahu commerce, gatherings and other activities for the next two weeks.
“I think it’s too little too late,” said Snookie Mello, 65, who commutes between her homes in Kahaluu and Volcano on Hawaii island.
Mello is particularly irritated that she has to endure a 14-day quarantine on the Big Island when she arrives from Oahu, but no quarantine when she returns to Oahu.
“I don’t like the inconsistencies between the counties,” she said.
Asked if people on Oahu will follow Caldwell’s orders, many of those waiting in long lines Wednesday said they had little faith that they would.
“I really think people are going to find a way to circumvent the rules,” Chaplain Mixon said, echoing others. “That’s why we’re in the situation we’re in.’
Others said they remained confused on what exactly they will be allowed to do — and not do — starting today.
Joy Uyehara works at the Kaneohe District Court and was not sure if she’s considered an essential or nonessential employee and whether she should report to work today.
“I just don’t know,” she said.
As a man walked past without a mask, Uyehara said, “And then you have some people who are wearing masks and some people who don’t.”