Phase 1 of surveillance testing program completed


HONOLULU (KHON2) — On Tuesday, the state’s surveillance testing program concluded and found 45 positive COVID-19 cases as of Nov. 24, out of 20,253 test, or 2.2 per 1,0000, conducted since the program’s launch on Oct. 19.

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According to the state, the assessment phase has begun.

Despite criticism from some county mayors, Lieutenant Governor Dr. Josh Green says the state’s data reflects Hawaii’s overall COVID-19 case numbers are low.

“We’re seeing a lower positivity rate right now than we did before travel started,” Lt. Gov Green said.

“The average (as of Nov. 30) is 75 cases per day. On average it was at 92 before Safe Travels began, so we’re actually seeing a decline in cases now,” he explained.

When the program launched, county mayors were sent an e-mail explaining that 20,000 to 30,000 test results would be enough to get a sample of COVID-19 positive travelers entering the state.

The state received criticism because the vast majority of results were from Hawaii island, which required all travelers to take a second test on arrival.

Several health officials argued that the Big Island data wasn’t a true sample because people were re-tested within 72 hours of their initial test and a true sample would ideally be four to six days after arrival.

Despite the criticism, Green said some of the mayors were given “theoretical models” and that it’s more important to focus on “actual data.”

“It’s much more important to look at the actual data. We can always improve the data. I’m the first to admit it. We would love to have extra surveillance data,” he said.

“I’m not saying the numbers can’t go up, but they haven’t gone up,” Green added. “So, I think this plan is working and we’re the only state in the country without a surge so far.”

“We’re two months in, so this has not been the forest fire that people have predicted,” he continued.

Green said 431,000 travelers have arrived since mid-October. The Department of Health (DOH) shared new data on Monday revealing travel-related coronavirus cases, of which Lt. Gov. Green added the arrival numbers for comparison.

According to Green and the Department of Health, there were 101 travel-related COVID-19 cases for Oahu “during a period where we had 182,212 people come into Oahu,” Green explained.

Kauai had 58 cases out of 47,998 arrivals.

Maui had 67 cases out of 115,578 arrivals.

The Department of Health said Big Island counted 73 cases.

“With 431,000 people coming in and not seeing any uptick in overall case numbers, that’s good news. Our hospital number was at 105 before the Safe Travels program began and today our number is at 53 in the hospital, so we have almost exactly half,” he said.

Although the DOH numbers are higher than the state’s surveillance data, Green shared takeaways from the data collected so far.  

“Now we’re in the assessment phase. Some of the early takeaways are that returning residents had a much higher rate of COVID, than travelers, I believe it was about five times higher,” Green said. “Another thing that we learned was (that) it’s very difficult to get people to take a test on day three or four, but you can get tests very reliably from people on arrival.”

“What I’m recommending is we give an extra day in advance of travel to Hawaii, so people can actually get the test results. So if they’re positive, they do not travel here, so we solve that problem and then test people with an antigen test on arrival so you have four days in between,” Green said.

Green added that he, along with the Department of Health, have given approval for Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell to do tests on arrival, but it comes down to the Governor to approve.

“For instance, Mayor Caldwell set up a lab. They could do antigen tests there. They have the space. That’s the kind of thing that’s good,” Green said.  

The Lt. Governor emphasized that keeping the economy open is also important and opting out of the safe-travels testing program could lead to additional problems.

“A big change in the system could cause problems. For instance, if you quickly go to no pre-test and people just go into quarantine, you could be putting a lot of college students in the household with their parents or their elderly grandparents without any tests at all,” Green explained in reference to Kauai county opting out of the state’s pre-travel testing program. “Those people could get sick with no test at all. They should still get tested.”

Green said as long as numbers remain low, people can return to work and the state can start to rebuild its economy.

“Twenty-nine thousand people have got their lives back,” Green said. “So, if we can keep this up, we’ll be good. And then we’ll be getting to vaccinate individuals and we’ll see extra safety and we’ll get through COVID. But if you sound the alarm prematurely, it will hurt a lot of people and I don’t want to see that. So let’s be careful.”

The Lt. Governor said if numbers start to climb, the state will adjust, but for now, Green shared that more surveillance testing could be done by the Department of Health.

“The Department of Health will carry out whatever ongoing surveillance needs to be carried out, we’ve finished per the governor’s advisor, they’re happy with what we finished,” he said.

There is no timeframe on when the DOH surveillance testing may begin.

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