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Latest COVID-19 positivity rate reported puts Hawaii ‘in the red,’ surgeon general says

Updated: Aug. 26, 2020 at 3:31 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The percentage of positive COVID-19 test results reported by the state Health Department on Wednesday was among the highest levels seen in Hawaii so far during the pandemic, a number high enough that it caught the eye of the visiting U.S. surgeon general.

277 new coronavirus cases were announced in Hawaii on Wednesday, when the Health Department reported 2,518 additional COVID-19 tests ― an 11 percent positivity rate.

It’s a rarity for Hawaii, which has only reported positivity rates above 10 percent on three other occasions this month, to have seen a rate that high on an average testing day, according to data obtained from the Department of Health.

But Hawaii has reported a positivity rate of at least 7 percent in 23 of the 26 days so far in August.

Health experts keep track of positivity rates because groups like the World Health Organization believe communities are safest when those rates are at 5 percent or lower for at least 14 consecutive days.

“When you look at the testing rates, (Hawaii is) over 10 percent, which puts Hawaii in the red. That’s why we’re calling on all of you to cooperate with the stay-at-home order,” Vice Adm. Jerome Adams, the U.S. surgeon general, said Wednesday.

21 states and the District of Columbia are currently reporting positivity rates below that 5 percent threshold, while at least a dozen states ― including Mississippi (27%) and South Carolina (21%) ― were reporting a daily rate higher than Hawaii.

In discussing Hawaii’s infection rate, Vice Adm. Adams was asked about new federal health guidelines posted this week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said it was not necessary for people who have been in close contact with infected people, but don’t feel sick, to get tested.

Local health departments had previously been advised to test anyone who had been within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes.

“There’s a lot of misinformation about what the CDC put out. It’s really meant to help health departments prioritize who gets tested,” the U.S. surgeon general said. “It’s designed to guide strategic testing in places where you’re in the green or the low yellow.”

Adams, who was referring to color-coded charts for measuring positivity rates, says the guidance is not necessarily applicable for areas seeing widespread infections.

“In those situations, the guidance actually says you should listen to your local health departments, and asymptomatic testing is perfectly acceptable and advisable,” Vice Adm. Adams said.

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