HONOLULU (KHON2) – More residents vaccinated and the opening of inter-island travel has resulted in a sharp drop in the number of people presenting for COVID-19 tests.
This lack of testing leaves millions of federal dollars unspent.
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A series of relief packages have poured billions of federal dollars into Hawaii, and Always Investigating has learned that much of that money intended for COVID testing programs has yet to be tapped.
Up to 5,000 to 7,000 COVID tests per day were common in Hawaii in recent months, but as of Monday, June 14, only 3,300 daily tests were recorded – the lowest number of weekdays since the day of the week. Year.
“I think we’re going to see a significant drop,” said Dr. Scott Miscovich of Premier Medical Group, whose clinics have provided state-wide and nation-wide testing throughout the pandemic. “There were statistics we were seeing that over 75% of all tests performed on Oahu were due to travel between islands or to the mainland, or required by employment.”
Demand for testing fell on Monday as inter-island travel reopened without restrictions on Tuesday and vaccinated residents returning from the mainland also no longer need testing. Why is testing still important with more than half of the population fully vaccinated?
“We know that at least 40% to 50% of individuals are asymptomatic positive, so how will these individuals know if they have the disease or not? said Miscovitch. “That is why you should always have a large amount of surveillance tests available, while increasing your vaccination rates at the same time.”
The very contagious Delta variant at the origin of the epidemic in India appeared on Monday in Hawaii as a mild case of COVID in a fully vaccinated local traveler.
As the volume of testing decreases, “it’s likely that the positivity numbers we have don’t really reflect the actual number of illnesses in our condition,” Miscovich said, “because we don’t have the attribution of the tests. to the areas we need to focus on. . “
It is not for lack of resources. The federal government gave Hawaii more than $ 170 million just for testing, and the the latest accounts show that most of it is not spent.
Always Investigating asked the Department of Health: what is the plan for widespread testing?
“Community testing is going to remain important, especially for any gathering setting, so places where people live together like nursing homes or for people in prison,” said Dr Sarah Kemble, acting state epidemiologist. . “There will be settings where testing will remain very important to keeping the finger on the pulse of the COVID circulation. “
“A place that we are testing will continue, no matter what, it will be in doctors’ offices, emergency rooms, hospitals,” Kemble said.
There is no shortage of test kits right now, often costing consumers $ 100.
“I do a periodic survey of private sector laboratories, and they report their inventory of test kits on hand,” said Dr Edward Desmond, administrator of the state laboratories. “There appears to be a solid supply of test kits on hand. I’m not worried about it.
A huge chunk of unspent federal testing money – over $ 40 million – was earmarked just for schools.
“Schools are where we have populations that are not eligible for vaccination,” Kemble said, “so we are working to expand some of the school test pilots that started over the summer and are looking at them. increase in the fall. “
Other states and school districts have already conducted widespread testing underway or have posted offers for the next school year. The state and DOE procurement websites show no active solicitation for COVID testing in schools or elsewhere.
Hawaii summer school students and staff who have registered can access the tests at eighteen public schools in Oahu at this time. This is a pilot program called ICATT, which stands for ‘Increasing Community Access to Testing’. Fourteen schools run weekly school tests and four schools offer vouchers for CVS testing. It only runs until July and not all of the schools on the pilot program list have started yet. Some start later in the week of June 14.
In addition to large program rollouts, it remains more important than ever to find thousands more people ready to be tested to replace the exodus of travel-related testing.
“I think the variants are a constant concern for those of us in public health,” Kemble said, “because it’s our job to worry about what might be around the corner.”
HIDOE schools participating in a CVS Summer Pilot Program for Increasing Community Access to Testing (ICATT) are listed below.
- Middle Dole
- Farrington High
- Kalakaua Medium
- Fern Elementary (Good only)
- Central midfielder
- High Kaimuki
- Kawananakoa Medium
- High Roosevelt
- Stevenson Midfielder
- Washington Center
- August Ahrens Elementary School
- Pearl City High
- Highland Intermediate
- Kanoelani Elementary (Voucher only)
- Manana Elementary School (voucher only)
- Waipahu Elementary School
- High Waipahu
- Waipahu Intermediate (Good only)