Community health centers to help with contact tracing in Pacific Islander communities

The state Department of Health has asked medical clinics for help as pressure grows on the department to fix what's lacking in terms of contact tracing.
Updated: Aug. 12, 2020 at 5:43 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Under increased pressure to fix what appears to be a lacking system, the state Department of Health has asked medical clinics in some Pacific Islander communities to help with contact tracing ― as COVID-19 cases continue to rise dramatically in those areas.

Leaders at Kalihi-Palama Health Center, Kokua Kalihi Valley and the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center already treat sick people and have done similar work to identify close contacts.

“When we have a positive, we go and look at the records in the book and see all of the parties in that household,” said Emmanuel Kintu, CEO of Kalihi-Palama Health Center. “We have a way of trying to get a message to all the parties of the household.”

Critics have called for better contact tracing by the Health Department in the Pacific Islander communities, which is made up of Micronesians, Tongans and Samoans. Most health centers have staff who speak those respective languages and can help with outreach, so Kintu said he is happy that the state finally reached out to them ― even if they’ve been offering help for weeks.

Data collected by epidemiologists from the University of Hawaii show the group accounts for about 35% of the state’s cases.

Advocates for the Pacific Islanders have said numerous cries for help have been ignored.

“It is late, but this is one of those situations where you’ll say, it’s better late than never,” said Kintu. “We’re dealing with human beings, the suffering is not going to stop, so we really need to do something.”

The health center leaders are waiting for guidelines from the state to ensure the contact tracing policies are uniform. They met Wednesday afternoon and hope to get a memorandum of agreement in the next few days.

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