COVID-19 testing pilot at Waianae school could prove model for other campuses

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Published: Jun. 18, 2021 at 3:35 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 4:43 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A weekly COVID-19 testing pilot program at Kamaile Academy in Waianae offered staff more than just free results. It provided them with comfort and education.

And it could prove a model for other Hawaii schools as students return to class this fall.

With help from the state Department of Health and Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, the Pacific Alliance Against COVID-19 offered staff at Kamaile Academy Public Charter School in Waianae COVID-19 weekly testing since March.

Officials from PAAC said over 80% of staff opted into the program.

In addition to making sure they weren’t bringing the virus into the classroom, over half of participants said they were more likely to become vaccinated.

“We would just have these little side conversations about their families, about their classroom settings, vaccinations, exposures, and travel that they were thinking about,” said Dr. May Okihiro, a pediatrician at the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center and a PAAC co-leader for the project.

“We wanted to explore how we could get testing into schools,” she said. " We wanted to see if it was feasible. We also wanted to see if it increased staff confidence about in-person teaching. We knew there was a lot of hesitancy.”

School Principal Paul Kepka said the program is about keeping “our ohana bubble safe.”

“What it’s really about is getting our kids back into the classrooms, getting people comfortable, so we can do what’s most important. And that’s focusing on teaching and learning,” he said.

Ikona Freitas taught middle school grades at Kamaile in the spring. He said the program helped him understand the virus better. It offered teachable moments for his students, too.

“I had the opportunity to have a few students this past school year in my classroom,” he said. “Every Monday, I would take them down with me for my COVID test. I would always remind them that I’m actually doing it not only for myself, but I’m doing it for you.”

After the successful pilot, PAAC is eyeing new opportunities to expand the program to more schools and community clinics.

“This pilot now becomes the model that we can take to other schools, in the Waianae, Nanakuli complex area, and then hopefully to the neighbor islands,” Okihiro said.

The group is also launching a program for eligible teachers to become “COVID-19 certified educators,” which comes with a $200 incentive.

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