Hana reports first possible COVID case, new app helps speed up contact tracing in rural areas


HANA, Hawaii (KHON2) — The rural area of Hana on Maui reported its first possible COVID-19 case on Wednesday, Nov. 20.

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Health officials said the Hana resident decided to participate in the free surge testing held by the County of Maui. The test result came back positive just minutes later.

Maui leaders and health officials will not give out any personal information regarding the resident, but said the man was asymptomatic and followed all health and safety protocols.

Maui health officials said on Nov. 20 they were going to re-test the Hana resident to make sure the test was not a false positive.

In a Zoom meeting on the night of Nov. 20 with the Hana community, a local physician told Hana residents he had spoken with the man who did everything right; always wore a mask, washed his hands and avoided gatherings.

“I think there is no risk he spread it to anyone else,” explained Hana physician Dr. Chad Meyer. “We looked at his contacts for the previous two days they were limited, there was one or two encounters of very low risk, less than 10 min contact with other people so I’m confident this is a dead end it goes nowhere.”

Dr. Meyer said the case shows someone can be symptom-free and still test positive.

“This is what we were afraid of and what we wanted to screen for,” he said about the surge testing. “So that we could make a quick intervention and prevent spread.”

“It’s a great heads up that the virus can easily get through the fence, come down that highway and start transmission cycles,” he continued.

Senator J. Kalani English, who lives in Hana, said contact tracing was done quickly, but Hana residents should not let their guards down.

“We’re lucky that this person practiced every precaution and did not go around town and wasn’t at the parties or the funerals or all the different things that the community does,” he explained.

When the COVID outbreak happened on Lanai, Sen. English and Rep. Lynn DeCoite encouraged residents to download the AlohaSafe Alert App on their phones.

The app is run through the Department of Health and does not track your location, instead it sends a ping to phones that are within six-feet of you for more than 15 minutes within the last two weeks.

“If a person tests positive, the Department of Health will send you a code, you put that code into your phone and everybody that was around that area will get a ping that simply says you’ve been exposed, please go get a test,” explained Sen. English.

The app does not tell the person who tested positive or where they might have contracted the virus.

“The app is crucial, because this gets us information really quick,” said Sen. English. “And basically, instead of spending three days doing contact tracing, this does it in in a period of about 48 hours.”

Sen. English said the app runs in the background, and he is encouraging everyone to download the app.

“It’s the official app for the State of Hawaii,” he said.

Sen. English said the app is interoperable, meaning there are other states that have the app and it communicates with the State of Hawaii’s app.

“The more people use it, the better it is, right? The more people that have it on their phone,” said English.

Rep. DeCoite said it is also helpful for people who spend a lot of time with kupuna and helps isolate positive cases quickly in areas with limited health resources.

“Then you can say, ‘holy smokes, I was just with my dad who is 80-something years old,’ I just got confirmed out of somebody else who was confirmed. So, I should take my dad in or my parent in and get tested and I think it’s just a helpful tool,” DeCoite said.

“What we don’t know, can kill us. What we do know can help us,” she said. “And it’ll give us an easier time to help combat or at least treat you early on.”

Anyone in Hawaii can download the app for iPhone or Android.

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