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Hawaii steps up spending for coronavirus tests and tracing ahead of tourism’s return

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / OCTOBER 1
                                Lt. Governor Josh Green said the local community is more likely to spread the virus than travelers.

    CRAIG T. KOJIMA / OCTOBER 1

    Lt. Governor Josh Green said the local community is more likely to spread the virus than travelers.

Hawaii is spending $30 million in federal Cares Act money to purchase “hundreds of thousands” of additional COVID-19 tests and equipment as the state cautiously reopens tourism and the local economy.

The tests are set to arrive in two to three shipments by December and be used to detect the new coronavirus in schools, nursing homes and correctional facilities and during large outbreaks in emergencies, the Health Department said.

“This means we will have hundreds of thousands of additional tests we can use to manage the virus in our community as we resume economic activity and school reopenings,” Gov. David Ige said Tuesday at a news conference.

In addition, the state has lined up nearly 200 contact tracers to bolster the Department of Health’s tracing team for travel-­related infections, Ige said, adding that will mean up to 500 contact tracers will be available as tourism numbers grow.

“We know no test or testing method is perfect, and we expect some travelers may come in with COVID-19. However, we anticipate this number to be small and manageable,” Lt. Gov. Josh Green said, adding that the greatest public health risk is from the local community “not practicing proper mitigation steps like wearing a mask, washing hands and physical distancing.”

“We have 1.4 million people here who will be coming and going from their homes, going to work, coming back to their families. That number of people are much more likely to spread than the small number of people that are going to travel here,” Green said. “We had our highest surges in COVID, up to 300 cases a day, when we had essentially no travelers here.”

The governor signed the 14th emergency proclamation, which extends the mandatory 14-day quarantine for arriving passengers with an exception for those who participate in the state’s pre-travel testing program. The latest order also extends an eviction prohibition for nonpayment of rent and the expiration of state IDs and driver’s licenses until Nov. 30.

“We know how people have struggled. What we don’t want to have is a surge in cases,” Green added. “All the testing in the world … will not stop the spread of COVID from one person to another if they’re not wearing a mask.”

Besides ramping up testing and contact tracing, the state is bringing in 240 specialty nurses, critical care clinicians and respiratory therapists from the mainland to boost hospital staffing ahead of year-end outbreaks.

Hawaii on Tuesday recorded four new coronavirus deaths and 62 new infections statewide, bringing the totals since the start of the pandemic to 173 fatalities and 13,575 cases. Three deaths were on Oahu — a man in his 60s, a man over the age of 80 and a woman in her 70s — and one was on Maui, a woman in her 50s who died in August.

More than 20 recently reported COVID-19 fatalities in Hawaii County have yet to be included in the state’s official coronavirus death toll.

There are 2,568 active infections statewide and 10,834 patients now considered recovered, or about 80% of those infected.

The U.S. coronavirus death toll has exceeded 215,000.

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