In wake of state’s concerns, Caldwell puts his ambitious COVID-19 testing plan on hold

In wake of state’s concerns, Caldwell puts his ambitious COVID-19 testing plan on hold
Health care workers conduct COVID-19 testing in Hawaii. (Source: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a blow to the city’s push to “test, test, test,” Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s ambitious plan to provide 10,000 more coronavirus tests for Oahu residents is on hold.

The decision comes a day after the state health director sent the mayor a sharply-worded letter, criticizing the test kits the city plans to purchase for $2 million.

Guy Kaulukukui, who’s overseeing the city testing programs, admits the city ignored a previous warning.

He told HNN, “The Department of Health was definitely not in favor of the city moving forward in this regard.”

Kaulukukui took part in initially pitching the idea to the state Department of Health back on April 14.

He says during that hour-long phone conversation, the state made it clear it thought teaming up with a testing company called Everlywell was a bad idea.

That information was then given to the mayor who decided to move forward with the project anyway.

Then on Wednesday, state Director of Health Bruce Anderson sent a two-page letter to the mayor with a list of alarming concerns about the city’s COVID testing program, claiming the Everlywell test kits the city had planned to purchase “appear to lack FDA emergency use approval” and “cannot be used within the United States.”

Anderson later retracted his claims that the test kits are not FDA-approved.

The company also said its test is approved.

The letter also pointed out local commercial labs that have the same turn-around time are charging half of what the city had agreed to pay the Texas-based company.

In a news conference Thursday afternoon, Caldwell read a prepared statement on the issue, saying that more testing will lead to restrictions being lifted sooner. He then had Kaulukukui take questions.

Kaulukukui said he was confused about the state’s lack of evidence for its concern. He said he spoke to Los Angeles city officials who had experience with the company and was given a positive review.

On Thursday afternoon, a Health Department spokesperson said, “The state is concerned about various tests in the market that may have varying results.”

At the news conference, Caldwell was asked why he and the state seemed not to be on the same page. He said, “We all make the decisions we need to make to protect the people we represent.”

Before moving forward with the $2 million purchase, the city says it wants to meet with the state to discuss the issue further. No word yet on when that might happen.

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