In the age of social media, fears and myths about the novel coronavirus are just as viral as the disease itself.

Even before Hawaii’s first confirmed case, business in Honolulu’s Chinatown took a 30% to 50% hit for stigmatized and unsubstantiated fears about community transmission.

The virus is also affecting other aspects of life in Hawaii — many of you told us it’s been hard to avoid the popular kiss on the cheek or a big hug, common greetings in the islands.

One of Hawaii’s first two cases of coronavirus was a passenger who traveled on the Grand Princess cruise ship. Courtesy: Hawaii News Now

To date, Hawaii has had two confirmed cases, both of which were travel related.

Still, many questions remain about safety and transmission for COVID-19. Here are the answers Civil Beat found in response to your concerns.

What’s the deal with testing in Hawaii?

Many people are wondering why the state has tested 22 people to date, since the State Laboratories Division has the capacity to conduct as many as 250 tests per week. Hawaii had a slow rollout to begin, as did many other states because the first round of testing kits from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had issues.

Hawaii public health officials say it has to do with efficiency, resources and epidemiological risk, as well as the protocol that weeds out the common cold or flu.

Dept of Health Epidemiologist Sarah Park discusses Coronavirus / COVID19 community surveillance program.
Hawaii State Epidemiologist Sarah Park said the state will begin to randomly test negative flu samples across the islands for possible COVID-19 cases. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Department of Health officials and the governor say they are keeping to strict criteria to use resources properly. They’re working with physicians to triage which patients are likely to have COVID-19 because of their symptoms and travel history. That criteria will likely expand as new pockets of the virus appear across the nation.

“We’ve expanded what the CDC recommended, otherwise we would never have picked up that individual from Washington State,” Dr. Sarah Park, the state’s epidemiologist, said Tuesday. “We’re trying to be judicious with our limited resources and staffing to make sure that we get the best value, so we can identify the positives and learn from them. If you just tested everyone and got a hundred negatives and one positive, that would not be a good use of our resources.”

When will Hawaii start to test randomly?

Right now. The Department of Health announced Tuesday it would begin surveillance screening to get a clearer picture of the virus’ prevalence in the community. Starting this week, the state will pull random samples from laboratories where patients had symptoms but tested negatively for the flu or cold.

“We’ve been asking for this capability and working with the CDC for weeks to get this program in the field,” said Bruce Anderson, state health director. “It will help us focus our prevention and response efforts so that we can keep our communities safe and informed about how the virus is affecting our state.”

Director of Health Bruce Anderson discusses 2-1-1 COVID 19 community surveillance program wih Governor Ige at the Dept of Health.
Bruce Anderson, director of the state health department, said surveillance testing will allow the state to determine if the coronavirus is being spread in the community. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

The State Laboratories Division will receive about 400 flu-negative samples a week from hospitals and laboratories and from that pool it will randomly select 200 to test for COVID-19.

I think I have the coronavirus. Can I get tested? 

First, call your doctor to discuss your symptoms and whether or not you should come into the clinic. Emergency departments and doctors’ offices are overwhelmed right now and it’s possible that your doctor will tell you to stay home to recover if your symptoms are mild.

Expect your doctor to ask you about the epidemiological risk factors, such as recent travel to Japan or Washington state. Patients still need to get referred by a physician to be tested for the coronavirus and will likely go through a flu test first.

If you have a fever, cough or shortness of breath, it is likely you’ll qualify for a test. A doctor will take an uncomfortable swab from your nasal cavity down to your throat and send it off to the lab.

Keep in mind that from China’s experience, about 80% of cases were mild. So in the event of an outbreak in Hawaii, many people will be asked to recover at home if they are not in need of intensive care from a hospital.

When will private laboratories start testing too? 

On Tuesday private laboratories entered the scene. Local labs including The Clinical Labs of Hawaii and Diagnostic Laboratory Services are capable of providing testing services. Some private laboratories in Hawaii may have to rely on sending samples to the mainland for confirmation until they validate their tests in-house. Theoretically, doctors in private practice do not need to seek DOH approval to call for a COVID-19 test; as of today, physicians may request testing from private laboratories. 

Will Hawaii get drive-through testing like South Korea?

At this point, it looks unlikely. Gov. David Ige said Tuesday that method has been mostly used in areas with large clusters of infection.

Is there a coronavirus hotline?

If you have general questions about coronavirus, you may call the state hotline at 2-1-1 or text 877-275-6569. For the latest information on COVID-19 in Hawaii, visit the state’s website.

We have plenty more questions to answer so stay tuned for more posts like this as we work our way through them. Meanwhile, use the form below to ask us anything and tell us what, if anything, you’re doing differently to avoid getting sick.

Coronavirus Survey

Please fill out this form to let us know your most pressing questions about COVID-19 and any practices or changes in lifestyle you've made because of it.

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