At long last, widespread community testing for the dreaded coronavirus is underway on Oahu, available daily at various sites and free of charge. It’s certainly overdue, but there is a catch: This testing is available for a very limited period of time — now through Sept. 8 — and judging from demand since the “surge testing” program began two days ago, high demand could mean some waiting.
But the minor inconvenience will be well worth it — both to inform individuals if they have the disease, and to reveal where cases are in the community and how they’re spreading. And such visibility on COVID-19 activity can then inform next-step isolation and quarantine actions.
Make no mistake: The next two weeks of Oahu lockdown, coupled with surge testing and quarantine capacity, will be more critical than any other period since the coronavirus forced Hawaii’s first shutdown back in March.
Hawaii is now reaching “red” risk levels — an alarming 306 new cases were reported Thursday — and it will take robust multi-level government coordination plus concerted community actions to quash the COVID threat, now dangerously taxing hospitals and staff.
First, the surge testing: This two-week push has the federal government funding up to 70,000 tests — 5,000 daily — in an intense effort to diagnose as widely as possible. U.S. Surgeon Gen. Jerome Adams — in Hawaii to announce the program alongside Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Gov. David Ige — articulately underscored the imperative to gain visibility on where cases are and their spread; that knowledge will guide better interventions against the disease.
High demand on Wednesday’s first day of testing at Kaneohe District Park and Leeward Community College caused traffic jams and confusion — so the city and state must quickly improve logistics, so as not to discourage turnout. But folks should be patient and persevere. This testing does not require symptoms, a doctor’s note or insurance, so register at www.doIneedacovid19test.com. Confidential results should return in three to five days, with positive cases to receive protective guidance.
Testing locations are listed at the website above, with many strategically sited to be accessible to lower- income and hardest-hit populations. Pacific islanders and Filipino Americans, for instance, have been disproportionately affected by COVID.
The second and third legs of the announced joint effort involve the boosting of contact tracing and the availability of quarantine hotels. The latter has been too long in coming, as COVID clusters had already emerged among close-quarter households unable to properly isolate or distance from a COVID-positive member. Led by the city and supported by the state, at least two hotels now offer quarantine options for those who need them (on Oahu, contact the Hawaii CARES hotline at 832-3100, or email email@example.com).
Snagging the support of Adams and the resources of the federal government seem to have infused cohesion and energy into Hawaii’s pandemic fight at a critical juncture. In addition to bankrolling 14 days of surge testing, a federal COVID-19 Response Assistance Field Team (CRAFT) team arrived here Monday, to help Hawaii identify root causes at the community level, identify lessons learned and help implement plans. Some specifics areas include school reopening plans, collaboration with community-based organizations and testing strategies.
Hopefully, this cooperation reset can be sustained, and will overcome previous mishandling by the state. City Councilman Joey Manahan, whose constituents in Kalihi-Iwilei and at Oahu’s jail in Dillingham have been hard hit, was right to voice frustration — for example, in the state Health Department for earlier rejecting city offers for COVID testing at community health centers and for help on contact tracing. We share his urging, made at a Tuesday news conference, for “more social justice and equity” in testing, tracing and overall COVID response.
It’s crucial that today’s purposeful show of coordinated force bring the intended results: to beat down Hawaii’s COVID-19 cases, and set up mechanisms to sustain those low levels. It will take all this — plus, of course, everyone’s ongoing adherence to the “3 Ws”: Wearing masks, washing hands and watching one’s distance of 6 feet apart from others.