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COVID testing sites on Oahu see uptick as new rules set to kick in

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Honolulu’s Safe Access O‘ahu program, which requires workers and patrons of most businesses to provide proof of full coronavirus vaccination or a negative test result, starts today. Above, people waited Sunday at the COVID-19 testing site outside of Terminal 2 at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Honolulu’s Safe Access O‘ahu program, which requires workers and patrons of most businesses to provide proof of full coronavirus vaccination or a negative test result, starts today. Above, people waited Sunday at the COVID-19 testing site outside of Terminal 2 at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

Sam Nava, a culinary worker at the Moana Surfrider hotel, was one of hundreds lined up Sunday at the COVID-19 testing site at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport to get results before today’s start of the city’s Safe Access O‘ahu program.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s plan requires most Honolulu-area entertainment, recreational and food service establishments to require that workers and patrons provide proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test prior to entering.

Unvaccinated patrons entering establishments covered under the city’s new rules must show proof of a negative FDA-approved or FDA Emergency Use Authorization-approved COVID-19 molecular or antigen test result taken within 48 hours.

Unvaccinated employees, contractors and volunteers of the businesses covered by the order must have proof of an approved negative COVID-19 test result taken within seven days of entry.

Baybee Hufana-Ablan, the Honolulu airport site trainer for Sanitation and Sterilization Professionals, said the testing location has been averaging about 1,000 people a day for some time, but there were about 1,100 people Saturday. Given the city’s deadline, she expected that as many as 1,300 might come through Sunday.

“The site doesn’t open until 9 a.m., but when I came in at 7:30 a.m., the line was already halfway to the road,” Hufana-Ablan said. “It’s just going to get busier. People come here because they are sick or they have been exposed. Some come because they are traveling. Some people come here because their employers are requiring them to test every day or once a week.”

By 1:30 p.m. the lines at the airport testing site snaked all the way to the airport thoroughfare.

Nava, who is unvaccinated, said another unvaccinated co-worker was able to get in and out Thursday. But he anticipated longer lines over the weekend, so he brought a portable golf stool that allowed him to sit while he waited.

“It’s an inconvenience, of course, but I have no choice. If I don’t get tested, I don’t work,” Nava said. “I’m waiting for them to get a better vaccine. I’m worried about side effects. Look at Israel: The more they are vaccinated, the higher the infection rate goes.”

While a majority of Hawaii residents have gotten vaccinated, more than a quarter of the state’s population hasn’t even received one dose. Health officials reported that 64.9% of the state’s population is now fully vaccinated, and 73.1% have received at least one dose.

The latest Hawaii COVID- 19 vaccine summary says 1,914,345 vaccine doses had been administered through state and federal distribution programs as of Friday.

State and county officials are pushing for even greater distribution of the vaccine, which is considered an effective way to prevent severe illness and death from COVID-19 as well as reduce community spread. Officials also are standing up more testing sites.

A new COVID-19 drive-thru testing site opened today at Blaisdell Arena, offering results of the Binax Now rapid antigen test in an hour or PCR nasal swab test results within 24 to 48 hours.

The testing site will operate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Registration online is required to book an appointment. Walk-ins will not be permitted at the testing site. The results will be texted to the cellphone provided upon registration, or those who chose the Binax Now rapid antigen can wait for results and speak to a clinician if they have any questions.

“We recognize testing is a key component for our community and we are happy to be able to offer this new location for people,” said Mayor Rick Blangiardi in a news release. “We appreciate the help and support from Nomi Health to make this site happen, especially so quickly. We want people to be able to get a test if needed, but I strongly urge people to get vaccinated instead of continually opting to take a test just to go to work or patronize businesses.”

Blangiardi has mandated vaccinations for the more than 10,000 city workers in his employ. Unvaccinated city employees may not work for the city unless they are granted a religious or medical exemption and agree to submit to weekly COVID-19 tests.

On Wednesday, Maui County begins “Safer Outside,” a set of emergency rules that require proof of vaccination for patrons over age 12 to enter restaurants, bars and gyms. Among other new requirements is a 10 p.m. closure for restaurants and bars. Spectators also are banned from indoor and outdoor sports events.

These latest emergency rule changes on Oahu and Maui follow a surge in coronavirus cases linked to the highly transmissible delta variant.

State Department of Health officials Sunday reported seven new coronavirus-related deaths and 735 new confirmed and probable infections statewide, bringing the state’s totals since the start of the pandemic to 660 fatalities and 71,891 cases.

Three of the deaths were on Oahu, two were on Kauai and one each on Maui and the Big Island. No further information was immediately available regarding the latest deaths.

The state’s official coronavirus-related death toll includes 503 fatalities on Oahu, 79 on Maui, 66 on Hawaii island, six on Kauai, one on Molokai and five Hawaii residents who died outside the state.

Sunday’s new confirmed and probable infection count by island includes 484 new cases on Oahu, 111 on Hawaii island, 57 on Maui, 56 on Kauai, five on Molokai and 22 Hawaii residents diagnosed outside the state.

The number of confirmed and probable coronavirus cases by island since the start of the outbreak are 50,262 on Oahu, 8,899 in Hawaii County, 8,387 on Maui, 1,769 on Kauai, 137 on Lanai and 175 on Molokai. There are also 2,262 Hawaii residents who were diagnosed outside of the state.

The statistics released Sunday reflect the new infection cases reported to the department Friday.

Health officials also said Sunday that of the state’s total infection count, 9,343 cases were considered active.

By island, Oahu has 6,344 active cases, the Big Island has 1,432, Maui has 1,018, Kauai has 527, Lanai has six and Molokai has 16.

The state’s seven-day average testing positivity rate is 7.1%, according to the Hawaii COVID-19 Data dashboard.

Of all the confirmed Hawaii infection cases, 3,848 have required hospitalization, with 26 new hospitalizations reported Sunday.

According to the latest information from the dashboard, 404 patients with the virus were in Hawaii hospitals as of Friday, with 84 in intensive care units and 71 on ventilators.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green reported 390 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Sunday and that 17% of them were vaccinated.

“We are still not out of the woods yet because we are waiting to see whether they’ll be a surge from Labor Day,” Green said in a message on Facebook. “All I can say please encourage friends and family to be vaccinated that’s the safest way to not get very ill.”

Green told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Friday that “we won’t know whether the impact of Labor Day is negative or positive until Sept. 15. It takes about 10 days to see if it’s impactful in the hospital numbers.”

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