Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced Thursday that the city would offer free community testing at the Waikiki Shell through the end of November, using a surplus of 28,000 test kits.
The surplus comes from a partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services formed to conduct several weeks of surge testing here in August and September, he said.
“As we open up, as we get back to a more open way of life, we want to get an accurate picture of where the virus is, and surveillance testing is how we get to that,” said Caldwell. “We want to make sure we’re using them to protect our residents, particularly those that work in our visitor industry.”
Hotel workers can conveniently visit the test sites, Caldwell said, and return numerous times to get tested again through Nov. 30.
The news comes as the state Health Department on Thursday reported 52 new COVID-19 cases for Oahu, bringing the isle’s total to 12,669. Statewide, there were 102 new infections and three more deaths due to COVID-19.
On Thursday, Oahu’s seven-day average of daily cases stood at 61, and the positivity rate was at 2.7%.
The free community testing will be available at the Waikiki Shell from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays through Nov. 30 for visitors, hotel workers and residents, and anyone else who is interested.
Free community testing will also be available at Ko Olina Resort Center, as well as possibly other locations, to be announced online at doineedacovid19test.com.
The test kits involve a simple nasal swab that is self- administered under monitoring by trained staff, and the results are sent via email in about three to five days.
In the summer surge testing events, Caldwell said about 62,000 individuals on Oahu were tested.
Gemma Weinstein, president of UNITE HERE Local 5, welcomed the news on behalf of hundreds of hotel workers the union represents.
“We’ve been asking the hotels to test the hotel workers since March, the start of this pandemic,” she said, “and till now we’re still waiting for them to agree.”
After Nov. 30, she said, the union will ask hotels to continue providing regular testing for workers to help control the spread of COVID- 19 in the community. Worker safety is community safety, she said.
With continued vigilance, testing and contact tracing, Caldwell said he was confident that Oahu could move from Tier 2, which went into effect Thursday, to Tier 3, which requires a seven-day average of no more than 49 new cases and a positivity rate of 2.49% or lower for two consecutive weeks.
As of Wednesday, Caldwell said, an estimated 7,902 people are in quarantine on Oahu. Of that total, he said 2,552 are visitors and 5,350 are residents.
He said he would meet with the Hawaii Tourism Authority and other industry officials to discuss how to better educate and inform visitors about the current COVID-19 rules here.
On a recent visit to the Honolulu airport, Caldwell said he found no information on Oahu’s COVID-19 rules being shared with visitors regarding when face masks are required or the restrictions on social gathering of groups no larger than five.
Such information should be shared on the airplane on the way here, he said, and brochures handed out from arrival at the airport to hotel check-in and in hotel rooms, as well as on in-room hotel TV channels. All travel vendors should also be doing their part in sharing information.
“We look at our hotels as our partners, and we need to work closely together to make sure people are compliant,” he said.
An outbreak of COVID-19 at just one Waikiki hotel potentially could affect the entire industry, he added.
He clarified that facial coverings on Oahu are required at public spaces indoors, but also outdoors if you are 6 feet or less from someone who is not part of your household.
Face masks are required for the hotel lobby, walking down the hallway and before sitting down at a restaurant, he said. Walking down Kalakaua Avenue by oneself, a mask is not required, until one is closer than 6 feet to another person.
“For me personally, if I’m walking down a busy sidewalk like Kalakaua, King Street or Bishop Street, I’d have my mask on,” he said. “Just wear it when you’re around a lot of people. If it creates further confusion, we may have to look at a further mandate. I hope not.”
Caldwell said he was considering recruiting the Royal Hawaiian Band to hand out face masks while walking around Waikiki.
Caldwell said he hoped to partner with a group of health care providers after Nov. 30 to continue providing free community testing at the Waikiki Shell, using federal coronavirus aid funding.
He urged everyone to stay vigilant and to follow the rules, particularly with Halloween around the corner. He reminded residents that “a healthy community equates to a healthy economy, and you can’t have one without the other.”
Free community COVID-19 testing
>> 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays*
>> Waikiki Shell, 2805 Monsarrat Ave.
>> Visit doineedacovid19test.com to sign up and find more information.
* Through Nov. 30. Other times and locations may be available as well.