Thousands participate in free ‘surge’ coronavirus testing site on H-3 Freeway

Published: Sep. 3, 2020 at 11:36 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 3, 2020 at 11:39 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Thousands lined lanes in both directions of the H-3 Freeway on Thursday for a free COVID-19 test.

Official said turnout far exceeded the first day of testing at the site Tuesday, when about 3,000 registered and fewer than 2,000 took tests.

The Honolulu Fire Department reported more than 5,000 people registered for Thursday’s testing.

At about 12:45 p.m. Thursday, the wait to get into Harano Tunnel — where authorities were helping to administer tests and label samples — was about two hours from both directions.

Thursday’s testing — like the testing event on Tuesday — moved forward even though the state Transportation Department never got the OK from the federal government for the freeway shutdown.

The Federal Highway Administration sent a letter to the state Tuesday morning, saying the agency was extremely concerned about the precedent, safety issues, gathering of data and traffic.

The state got the letter at 8:15 a.m. on Tuesday morning but decided to move forward with testing.

On Thursday, state Highways Director Ed Sniffen said he believed the disagreement could be cleared up and he did not believe there would be any ramifications, such as the loss of federal highway dollars.

He added that the state also had to consider “the cost of doing nothing.”

“We’ve seen when we relax and we think we beat the virus and it comes back tenfold,” Sniffen said.

“We’d rather make the decision to know that we’re fighting this virus all the way to the end.”

The mass testing site is part of a federally-backed program to administer 90,000 tests over the coming weeks, mostly on Oahu, in a bid to better understand the prevalence of the virus in the community.

Other testing sites have also been held in community parks.

In recent days, a handful of Hawaii residents who registered for the tests were left scratching their heads. They said they got results even though they never actually took the test.

The company processing the tests says it was a limited error.

Mia Palmieri Heck, a spokeswoman for the US Health and Human Services Department, said the company that processes the tests identified four participants from Hawaii “who had results sent to them accidentally. They have researched the problem and they feel confident the issue is limited to these four individuals. Their clinical team is in the process of calling all four of the affected individuals.”

Officials opted for the H-3 Freeway testing in hopes of cutting down on traffic impacts and maximizing the number of people who can be tested in a single day.

Sniffen said he doesn’t anticipate H-3 being used again as a mass testing site, but he is happy with the results. “We’re not just sitting back and taking things as they go,” he said. “We’re being proactive.”

A reminder for those coming out Thursday: Make sure your vehicle has enough gas and bring something to drink and snack on in case you do end up waiting on the freeway for longer than you had planned.

This story will be updated.

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