WASHINGTON — A new report from NPR shows that Honolulu was one of six U.S. cities selected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in February to conduct “sentinel surveillance” that would help officials get a better handle on how the coronavirus was spreading throughout the country.

The idea was that this program would serve as an early warning system for states and municipalities to respond to the coronavirus, but due to numerous logistical challenges — not least of which were related to the CDC’s faulty tests — the program never fully functioned the way it should have.

Healthcare workers conduct drive thru coronavirus testing at Kakaako Waterfront Park. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Honolulu was selected along with Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Seattle in part because, according to NPR, they were already participants in the CDC’s flu-tracking program and there was a high likelihood that the virus would emerge in those cities.

Through the program health officials were supposed to test patients who were experiencing mild respiratory symptoms and did not have other travel-related risk factors to get a sense of how the virus might be quietly spreading through the community.

But as the surveillance program ramped up it hit a number of snags, including limited testing supplies and wary hospital administrators who were worried about being stigmatized as the source of the infection.

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