HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Amid growing concerns about a global outbreak of the coronavirus, state public health officials are urging residents to be prepared ― but don’t panic.
They say the risk to Hawaii residents of contracting the virus remains low.
Here are the latest updates on the virus in Hawaii:
Governor David Ige said Friday that state health officials can now conduct tests for coronavirus in Hawaii, eliminating the untimely process of having to send physical test samples to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention laboratory in Atlanta for analysis.
That process took five to seven days to complete, accounting for air travel and test times on the ground.
The state still has not yet received a new set of test kits from the CDC. Instead, state officials worked with federal officials to determine that the defective part that had been included in the original batch of test kits was not essential to being able to test for the COVID-19 virus.
Speaking from the state House chambers on Friday afternoon, Rep. Scott Saiki said that the state must take its reliance on tourism into account while preparing for the financial impacts of the global coronavirus outbreak.
“Hawaii will be hit hard because of our proximity to Asia and our fragile economy that relies heavily on tourism and imports,” Rep. Saiki, the Speaker of the Hawaii House of Representatives, said.
Speaker Saiki noted that the state’s Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism reported a February decline in international visitors to Hawaii of more than seven percent. The state is also expected to lose more than $20 million in visitor spending because of the temporary suspension of flights to South Korea.
The CDC has given the green light to the state’s laboratory to start testing for coronavirus.
The governor and others have expressed growing frustration in recent weeks over the inability to test for the virus because of a series of CDC stumbles, including flawed tests sent to the state.
So far, only one test has been processed at the state lab as of Friday. Results came back negative for the virus.
The CDC’s criteria that was in place for testing: Patients had to be exhibiting significant symptoms and recently traveled to China.
The CDC changed that criteria Thursday in the wake of a case in California that was not linked to travel.
Travelers to other areas can now be tested along with those who are exhibiting severe respiratory distress but have tested negative for other illnesses, including the flu.
As of Saturday, the state Health Department said 96 people are self-monitoring for the coronavirus in Hawaii after recent travel to China. That’s up from Friday’s number of 80 people.
Self-monitoring is essentially a voluntary quarantine under Health Department supervision.
Officials said 88 of those who are self-monitoring are on Oahu. The Big Island has five people in the category while Kauai has two and Maui has one.
Officials: Mild cases of coronavirus could be missed
Testing for coronavirus in the United States is reserved for people exhibiting severe symptoms.
That means mild cases of the illness could be missed, complicating efforts to track and contain it.
Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist, said the testing issues are a concern.
“We are not testing the mild to moderately ill. That is definitely a concern we share,” she said.
“That’s why we are part of a national discussion right now with other states and the CDC to discuss how we might do surveillance for those kind of conditions that mild to moderate illness out there.”
She added that there is a potential that Hawaii has already seen mild to moderate cases of coronavirus.
“We are trying to understand potential impacts ahead of being able to test those individuals,” she said.
The State Department is asking Americans to avoid non-essential travel to South Korea as the country scrambles to contain a coronavirus outbreak.
Authorities already advised against all travel to China.
Meanwhile, a Level 2 advisory has been issued for Japan, advising travelers to take extra precautions in the country.
To find the latest travel advisories, click here.