As the coronavirus surges to record highs across the mainland, Oahu has opened a $4 million mobile COVID-19 testing container near Terminal 2 at the Honolulu airport to try to stop the virus in its tracks as tourists and residents resume travel.
Once certified, Oahu will have a second post-arrival testing option in addition to the state’s pre-travel testing program that allows trans-Pacific travelers who test negative within 72 hours to bypass the 14-day quarantine. Hawaii has recorded 4,000 to 5,000 arrivals per day, or more than 100,000 since the pre-travel testing program began Oct. 15.
“We’re working through the regulatory process to get that up and running. The container will be able to test 10,000 samples per day — virtually double the entire state’s testing capacity,” Gov. David Ige said Monday on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii. “If we can ramp up to full capacity and get 10,000 tests per day, that would really be a game changer.”
The program also will give Oahu residents and visitors a testing option to avoid the mandatory quarantine for interisland travel.
Hawaii health officials reported 78 new coronavirus infections statewide, including 65 on Oahu, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 15,231 cases. No additional deaths were reported. The official state death toll remains at 219.
The new cases include seven positives due to a social gathering cluster, including three health care workers, “meaning they jeopardize where they go to work and they force these health care communities to isolate and quarantine,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell at a news conference Monday.
“Even those in the health care community let their guards down,” he said. “They say, ‘Well, we’re together, we’re all part of a bubble of friendship,’ or whatever, and seven cases came out of this and they take it to their places of work and could spread it there.”
What’s more, the Honolulu Police Department had to break up two large parties in the country over the Halloween weekend, he added.
“They’re going to spread the virus, and then we could face another move backwards instead of moving forward into Tier 3 before Thanksgiving. We all pay the price for those who don’t practice all the protocols.”
Oahu moved to the less restrictive Tier 2 of the island’s four-tier economic recovery plan on Oct. 22, and must stay in that tier for four weeks. To move to Tier 3 on Nov. 19, the island must maintain a seven-day average case count of 49 or fewer cases, and a seven-day average positivity rate of 2.49% or lower for 14 consecutive days. Oahu’s seven-day average case count on Monday was 56, and the positivity rate was 2.3%.
Caldwell said he is “troubled” by the 65 new cases on Oahu as COVID-19 rages in most mainland states and continents, including Europe, ahead of the holidays and winter season when health experts are predicting a more virulent wave of cases.
As of Monday there are 3,144 active infections statewide and 11,868 patients now considered recovered, or 77.92% of those infected.
“That virus can spread here, and we could actually be in a third surge. But we learn from our past mistakes, and I don’t want to repeat them, so we need to be careful,” Caldwell said. “We look at states around our country, almost all of them are seeing a surge in cases, so we’re not unique. The prevalence on the continent could be greater than the prevalence here on Oahu, which means we’re at some risk.”