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Mayor Kirk Caldwell urges travelers to use airport lab

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Travelers must pay $125 for COVID-19 tests at the mobile lab at Daniel K. Inouye Airport, but testing there is free for first responders and their family members living in the same household, as well as for federal or state employees working at the Honolulu airport. Beach activity was light near the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort on Thursday.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Travelers must pay $125 for COVID-19 tests at the mobile lab at Daniel K. Inouye Airport, but testing there is free for first responders and their family members living in the same household, as well as for federal or state employees working at the Honolulu airport. Beach activity was light near the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort on Thursday.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Mayor Kirk Caldwell is urging travelers to take advantage of a COVID-19 testing lab at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. A beachgoer checked her phone Thursday while sunning on the mostly empty beach in Waikiki.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Mayor Kirk Caldwell is urging travelers to take advantage of a COVID-19 testing lab at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. A beachgoer checked her phone Thursday while sunning on the mostly empty beach in Waikiki.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is urging more people to take advantage of COVID-19 testing for interisland travel at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

A new mobile COVID-19 testing lab at the airport opened recently near Baggage Claim 31 of Terminal 2. The lab is operated by the National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii and is open to the public.

Over nearly three weeks the lab has tested 300 people via nasal swab, with a 5% positivity rate. The rate is higher than the 2.7% average for Oahu because most of those tested were first responders who were exposed to the virus. Only about 100 travelers have used the facility to bypass a 14-day mandatory quarantine for interisland travel, Caldwell said Thursday at a news conference.

“We need to do a lot better,” he said of the facility, which can handle up to 10,000 tests a day. “We know people want to go to the neighbor islands to see their family and friends, and there’s a great opportunity here to be tested.”

The city has purchased 42,000 additional tests for the mobile lab, he said. But travelers must pay $125; the test is free for first responders and their family members living in the same household, as well as for federal and state employees working at the Honolulu airport.

The mayor hopes to increase testing by bringing the lab, now positioned at the Diamond Head tour group bus area at the overseas terminal, closer to the interisland terminal and into the community.

Increased testing is particularly critical as cases surge on the mainland, Caldwell said.

“COVID is raging out of control in the rest of the continent in every state … with no end in sight for when we’re going to see a downward turn,” he said. An estimated 251,000 people across the country have died of the novel coronavirus, with the U.S. positivity rate, or percentage of tests coming back positive, at 10%.

“We do take risks every time someone flies here from the rest of the continent. We had a very low positivity rate because we have a natural barrier … our Pacific Ocean,” he said. “We’ve opened up that barrier in allowing people through, and that comes with risk and that risk grows as the positivity grows on the continent.”

Health officials reported 107 new coronavirus infections statewide Thursday, including 75 on Oahu, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 16,841 cases. The official state coronavirus death toll remains at 223; however, the state has yet to verify COVID-19 as a factor in 17 Big Island deaths. Of the state’s total infection count, 1,527 cases are considered active cases.

Oahu is in Tier 2 of the island’s four-tier economic recovery plan, which limits gatherings to five people. The county will not move to Tier 3 — allowing up to 10 people to gather together — by Thanksgiving.

To move to the next tier, the seven-day average of new cases must be below 50 on two consecutive Wednesdays, and the positivity rate must be below 2.5%. Oahu’s seven-day average case count Thursday was 71, and the positivity rate was 2.7%.

“I’m still hopeful we can get to Tier 3 and gather in 10 before the holidays kick in. We don’t need to give up; we need to hunker down and work harder,” Caldwell said. “We have the potential to bring great joy by being careful now in a very dark year.”

The mobile lab is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Test results are expected to be available in three to four hours.

For more information on the mobile testing lab, visit oneoahu.org/covid19-testing/#mobile.

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