Under pilot, Big Island high schoolers would be regularly tested for COVID

Updated: Feb. 2, 2021 at 5:11 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A push to vaccinate more of Hawaii’s teachers is underway, but safety measures to get students back to class could go beyond immunizations.

On the Big Island, county health and education officials are considering a pilot project that would involve regularly testing high school students for COVID-19.

The idea is to use some of some of the state’s surplus testing supplies to swab all public high school students in Hawaii County twice a week.

In many ways the Big Island has led the state in terms of COVID-19 testing.

It’s the only county to swab 25% of travelers who touch down at its airports.

Now, there’s talk of expanding the scope of who should be tested in an effort to get kids safely back in the classroom.

“I think getting teachers vaccinated is no. 1. And then the student testing goes right after this,” said Dr. Scott Miscovich, founder of Premier Medical Group and a leading voice in COVID testing.

Miscovich is working with education officials and Hawaii County leadership to provide COVID-19 testing at the island’s nine public high schools for students in ninth to 12th grade.

According to the plan, all 7,000 public high school students would be tested twice a week using rapid antigen tests. Miscovich says the state has a surplus of them ― more than enough to provide testing for the rest of the school year.

“We have 800,000 kits that are available that are not only paid for, (but) if we don’t use them they are going to expire over the next three to six months,” he said.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said getting kids back in class is critical.

“Much of what is normal in life for our keiki is school,” he said.

In a letter dated Jan. 28, Green told state and county leaders he believes schools can safely reopen once teachers are vaccinated.

With immunization efforts underway, he projects most educators will receive their shots this month.

Green says he likes the idea of regularly testing students, saying it could prevent outbreaks.

Under the plan, contact tracing would be initiated for any student who tests positive.

“You’re not going to vaccinate children until the summer. Until it’s approved by feds and the companies,” Green said. “But kids don’t get sick, or particularly sick from COVID. But they can however spread it. So they’ll need to wear masks. They’ll need to be smart about things.”

Cyrus Johnansen, Hawaii County spokesman, said no decision has yet been made on whether students will be tested.

He added, “Getting our keiki back to the classroom and returning to normalcy in a manner that doesn’t jeopardize the health and safety of our community is certainly a conversation that our administration is excited to have.”

Meanwhile, Miscovich says he wouldn’t need much notice if the state decides to go forward with the program.

“I could launch this next week,” he said.

Miscovich adds the project would be no charge to the state. He’s offered to provide the staff needed to do the testing for free.

For now, he’s waiting to get the go-ahead from officials.

Miscovich said, “The DOE has got to be the one to make the final decision on this.”

HNN reached out to the Department of Education for comment. A spokesperson said Big Island education leaders need more details about the plan before they can comment.

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