Caldwell: Oahu lacks capacity to test travelers second time, at least for now

Updated: Oct. 13, 2020 at 4:53 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - As the state prepares to launch its long-awaited pre-travel testing program this week, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Monday that the city did not currently have the testing capacity to conduct a second test on arriving passengers and was not prepared to make a second test an element of the plan to relaunch Oahu’s tourism industry.

But if the city can find a way to dramatically raise its current testing capacity levels, Caldwell said, it would implement a second test ― something leaders on all islands have called for as part of the state’s strategy to welcome visitors back to Hawaii.

“At this point, as you know, the vast majority of the state’s population lives on Oahu. We want to make sure that the capacity and testing that we have on Oahu not be spent somewhere else,” Mayor Caldwell said ― like on tourists.

Caldwell says the city is trying to ‘beef up’ its testing capacity, citing conversations with a mobile lab unit to try and do up to 10,000 tests per day. The state currently reports an average of between roughly 1,500 and 2,500 tests per day.

The city’s strategy would change, Caldwell said, if it could find a way to test incoming passengers without compromising capacity to test Oahu residents.

“If it actually works out, then we will roll out a second test,” the mayor said. “But it will not happen on (Thursday, when the state’s program is set to launch). It’ll probably happen down the road a bit.”

Caldwell also said that visitors who were tested a second time would not be asked to quarantine upon arrival while awaiting results, with the city instead relying upon contact tracing to mitigate the impact of potential exposure.

There is no possible way to completely eliminate the risk of allowing visitors to return to Hawaii, Caldwell said, echoing a sentiment Dr. Anthony Fauci made in a conversation with Lt. Gov. Josh Green last week. Caldwell believes the state’s pre-travel testing program will screen out about 80 percent of those who may be COVID-positive ― and that ‘there’s risk, no doubt.'

“It’s such an important part of our economy that if we don’t open up, it will be difficult to open up later,” Mayor Caldwell said.

There’s also concern at Honolulu Hale that incoming tourists who test positive for COVID-19 would be added to Oahu’s count ― jeopardizing the city’s plan to reopen sectors of the economy in tiers.

“It could affect our ability to go forward,” the mayor acknowledged.

During the press conference, Mayor Caldwell also provided details on a new “Farm to Food” program that will provide CARES Act funds to local nonprofit organizations so that they can buy food from local farm operations and distribute them to local residents in need.

“This is a $4.3 million program that we’re entering to provide over 100,000 meals to the people of Oahu by the end of the year, using locally grown produce,” said Mayor Caldwell. “This is about food production and job creation and sustainability.”

The program is as much of a lifeline for local farmers as it is for local residents. The lack of tourism and the closure of hotels and restaurants have had a significant impact on the industry in Hawaii.

“If you think about it, a lot of the people producing your food have been around a long time,” said Taylor Kellerman, of Kualoa Ranch. “If you remove their ability to remain economically and financially viable, it will be a tough way back to the surface.”

Just 42 new coronavirus cases were reported in Hawaii on Monday, the fewest in a single day since late July.

37 of those cases were reported on Oahu.

“Good job. Really, really good job,” Mayor Caldwell said. “If you come back down to a more manageable caseload, we can move to Tier 2, if we keep this up. Our behavior today will affect the outcome on October 22. We hold that future in our hands, each of us.”

This story will be updated.

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