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Number of COVID-19 cases likely to spike again after testing surge, officials warn

Updated: Aug. 28, 2020 at 6:58 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell likened Hawaii’s battle against coronavirus to ’war’ on Thursday, hours after the state Department of Health reported four new COVID-19 deaths statewide ― the most in a single day since the start of the pandemic.

Speaking from one of the city’s new surge testing sites in Kalihi on the same day a new stay-at-home order went into effect on Oahu, Caldwell acknowledged that the 304 new coronavirus cases announced by the state continued to create cause for concern.

“Let’s get real. We are at war. We are on war footing now in fighting this virus,” Mayor Caldwell said. “We don’t have all the tools, but we’re building more. And today is about building those tools.”

The city’s new surge testing initiative, backed by U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams and the federal government, has been vaunted for the last several days as one of those tools.

At Kalakaua District Park in Kalihi, for example ― where the city was conducting walk-up testing ― at least 1,500 people had been tested as of about 1:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Roughly 4,800 total tests were performed at surge testing sites on Oahu on Wednesday, nearly double the typical number of tests reported by the state on any given day.

“An incredible number in a new and different way,” Mayor Caldwell said.

But the sudden increase in testing, though described as critically important for Oahu communities, was sure to present problems of its own, state and federal officials said during Thursday’s press conference.

For one, with so many more tests being performed on a daily basis, the total number of positive cases being reported by the state Department of Health was almost guaranteed to go up ― perhaps even higher than the 355 cases that set a single-day record for new cases earlier in August.

“I really want to prepare people for those numbers,” Gov. David Ige said. “We are putting additional contact tracers in place so we can follow up with those positive cases.”

[For more details on Mayor Caldwell’s new stay-at-home order, click here.]

The geographic locations of the surge testing sites, according to the Dr. Adams, was also expected to contribute to the number of cases reported.

“We are intentionally putting testing in communities that we know are hard hit,” said Dr. Jerome Adams, the U.S. Surgeon General. “That’s what we expect. But at the end of the two weeks (of surge testing), we’ll watch the numbers.”

Mathematically, putting surge testing sites in areas that have been particularly susceptible for COVID-19 breakouts also leaves open the possibility that positivity rates ― the number of positive cases reported over a time period, divided by the number of total tests done during that time period ― would also go up.

The positivity rate for Hawaii on Thursday was reported to be higher than 12 percent, according to Dr. Adams, even higher than the 11 percent rate reported on Wednesday.

“The actions we take today will be reflected in cases two weeks from now,” said Dr. Adams. “You may continue to see cases go up over the next week or so. That doesn’t mean that you’re not doing the right thing.”

This story will be updated.

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