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Honolulu Council urges more COVID-19 prevention steps, including reinstating pre-travel testing

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Members of the Honolulu City Council are pushing for more city resources to combat the spread of COVID-19, including more testing sites, isolation facilities and reinstating the pre-traveling testing program.

The call for increased efforts comes as the state reaches record numbers of COVID-19 infections and hospital capacity continues to be strained.

Council Chairman Tommy Waters and Council member Esther Kia‘aina have introduced four resolutions related to the city’s and state’s COVID-19 response.

“On the testing and quarantine sites, it is clearly common sense that with the increased need, whether it be for vaccination or testing, you’re gonna need both,” Kia‘aina said.

“We have an obligation to care for all.”

The city currently has a testing facility at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. However, Council members have heard that access to the area has been challenging for some people.

Waters suggested making parking more available.

“We just need to work with the governor and the state and the Airports Division to provide parking for people,” he said.

Kia‘aina is working with those in state government and nonprofits to set up testing opportunities in areas such as Waimanalo or the West side of the island, which may be too far away from the airport for residents in the area to use the city’s current facility.

“You need to figure out how to reach them,” she said.

“That would be not only having more creative avenues, but then also we’re looking at boots on the ground in the community.”

The city was allocated $386 million in federal funds through the American Rescue Plan Act to combat the public health and economic impact of COVID-19.

Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s office has notified the Council that it will be using $15 million in ARPA funding to increase testing, including procuring more tests for the airport site and setting up more community testing locations islandwide.

Kia‘aina and Waters are also pushing for more isolation rooms for those who are infected with COVID-19 but don’t have a place to go to isolate themselves.

Oahu currently has 64 isolation rooms, but the city hopes that the state Department of Health will expand that number to 130. However, city Department of Emergency Management Director Hiro Toiya said there is not yet a concrete timeline for the expansion because DOH would need to remove the current occupants from the space. Also, DOH has shifted the focus of the use of isolation facilities away from helping family members separate from each other, and are instead trying to use the isolation facilities more for people in congregate settings.

“By the time somebody gets infected, becomes symptomatic, gets tested, gets the result, asks for help and gets actually admitted into one of these facilities — by that time, in all likelihood, they would have exposed all their household members,” Toiya said.

“But it would be effective under certain circumstances, like congregate settings where they still have a chance to separate people out rather than having a large outbreak.”

Kia‘aina rejected the notion that isolation facilities for families would not be effective.

“I don’t know of anyone who is not going through pains with regard to those who have tested positive and are not in need,” she said.

“They’re looking at creative ways on how to isolate. … My concern is this: Not everyone cannot do that.”

Waters and Kia‘aina applauded Blangiardi’s Safe Access O‘ahu program, which would require a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours or proof of vaccination to enter establishments such as restaurants, gyms and movie theaters starting Sept. 13.

However, Waters would have liked to see the plan implemented before the Labor Day weekend.

“I’m concerned that people have two weeks before this is implemented, and they’re going to really take advantage of that,” he said.

“I understand there’s probably logistical barriers to that because you want to give the opportunity for people to be vaccinated to get their paperwork together, but at the same time, it really scares me. … I hope it doesn’t get worse.”

Kia‘aina and Waters also have introduced a measure to urge the state to re-implement the pre-travel test program that would require travelers to produce a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before reaching Hawaii. Currently, vaccinated travelers can bypass the testing requirement.

“We know that with the delta variant you can still get sick even with a vaccine,” Waters said.

“I just think we got to go back to that, based on the spike.”

It would be up to Gov. David Ige to decide to re-implement the policy; however, Waters and Kia‘aina both thought it would be important to demonstrate Council support for the measure. It will be discussed at a Council meeting on Thursday.

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