Citing mounting costs, Hawaii County considers changes to post-travel testing program

Updated: Mar. 29, 2021 at 5:08 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A modified COVID-19 testing system for arriving passengers is in the works on the Big Island, the only county that still tests people upon arrival.

A total of about 180,000 tests have been done at airports in Hilo and Kona since the program began. Of those, there have been 165 positive results.

While that’s a very small percentage, Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth said those people could have been out infecting others if they hadn’t been screened.

“That 165 could have turned into 1,000 and it could have turned into several deaths,” Roth said.

Dr. Scott Miscovich, of Premier Medical Group, has been with the county Civil Defense agency and airport officials to oversee the post-arrival tests, “When people are pre-tested with Safe Travels they are coming in with low instance of disease, but not a complete non-existence of the disease,” he said.

Premier Medical Group doesn’t just do testing at the airports, but also uses the test kits in the community when responding to clusters.

While the airport program has been able to find active cases, the cost of testing so many people is becoming too much for the county to handle.

An anonymous donor has been paying the bill for the county’s airport testing program since the beginning of the year.

Among the new options being eyed: Exceptions for those who are vaccinated.

Roth said he does not want to abandon the arrival testing altogether.

“We don’t have as many hospitals and doctors and health care professionals as on Oahu,” Roth said. “So decisions that we’re making always take that into consideration.”

The Big Island has kept case counts relatively low throughout the pandemic, with a current seven-day positivity rate of 1.5%.

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