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O’ahu ramping up threefold plan for testing for COVID-19

City and County of Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced today that the City and County has a threefold plan to track the spread of COVID-19 on O’ahu:  more testing for both COVID-19, more testing for antibodies, and analyzing wastewater around the island.   He also noted that health experts nationwide say increased testing is considered the best way to allow communities to reopen.

The plan is not only to monitor the spread of COVID-19 on O’ahu, but to provide opportunities for research at John A. Burns School of Medicine.  The Rockefeller Foundation, which has advocated expanding testing nationwide to 30 million tests a week to effectively keep the economy open and growing, is part of the endeavor.  Caldwell said they plan to do around 50,000 COVID-19 tests and around 49,000 antibody tests, to see if somebody had COVID-19 already and has developed antibodies.

Most of the actual testing will be done through the community health centers.

The City and County’s Chief Resilience Officer, Josh Stanbro, said wastewater testing is already being done in around 170 communities nationwide.  He said testing will be done at each of the island’s 9 wastewater treatment plants, and the idea is to see how much COVID-19 becomes present as the island’s businesses open up and as tourists begin to return to the island.  The wastewater was tested as a baseline before businesses started opening up.  The data won’t be household-specific, but would indicate a trendline that might warrant additional COVID-19 testing in a community.  It also is a backup because people without symptoms may never go in for COVID-19 testing but may still be shedding the virus.

University of Hawaii President David Lassner and Jerris Hedges, Dean of JABSOM, said they will use a laboratory at JABSOM for research.  The lab was certified to do COVID-19 testing at the beginning of April.

Mayor Caldwell had previously announced plans to expand testing on O’ahu with tests purchased from the Everlywell Company, and State Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson pushed back and said they had no confidence in those tests.    Mayor Caldwell said he believes DOH will support the current plan, since it uses the local medical school, local laboratories Diagnostic Laboratories and Clinical Laboratories, and the community health centers.

Much of the funding available for this expanded endeavor is coming from $4Million from the Federal CARES Act.

Photo is City and County of Honolulu Chief Resilience Officer Josh Stanbro.

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