After false positives, Hawaii County considers nixing post-arrival test for travelers

Updated: Oct. 20, 2020 at 4:54 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Nine travelers who tested positive for COVID-19 in post-arrival screening on the Big Island turned out not to be infected with the virus.

That’s according to the doctor in charge of the island’s post-arrival testing program.

Those alarming false positives are leading to more doubts about testing at the airport.

Late Tuesday, Mayor Harry Kim confirmed he’s debating whether to make changes to the program ― or end it all together.

During a phone interview, Kim told HNN that officials in Hawaii County are currently reviewing all the data collected over the past week.

He said they will make a decision on whether to continue the islands required post-arrival tests by midnight Wednesday.

Right now, every traveler who arrives on Hawaii Island is required to get an antigen test before they can leave the airport.

All it takes is a quick swab and results are ready in a matter of minutes. The process has been performed by close to 3,000 people since last Thursday.

“If we want to continue this we should try to find ways to post-test after they arrive here in a three- to four-day period,” Kim said.

Hawaii County is the only island that currently mandates travelers get a rapid test upon arrival.

Dr. Scott Miscovich, of Premier Medical Group, is overseeing the post-arrival testing program.

He says that test is extremely reliable if you’re actively shedding the virus. Miscovich added the downside of this new technology is that it will occasionally generate a false positive.

“We had nine positives (out of 3,000 tests) which is 0.3%. It’s a very small number. Of those nine we then do a gold standard PCR test. They all came back negative,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green says the initial data from the Big Island’s post-arrival testing is very helpful, saying results confirm the number of travelers infected with the coronavirus is very low.

“So far, the first 3,000 travelers have demonstrated not only were people negative within the 72 hours before traveling to Hawaii but on the day of arrival all of them are still negative," Green said.

He has argued that a second test after arrival is not necessary and has arranged for random surveillance testing of visitors as an insurance policy to protect against imported cases of the virus.

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