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Waianae’s only emergency care facility struggles to keep up with surge in COVID cases

Published: Aug. 26, 2021 at 5:24 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 26, 2021 at 5:48 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center is tackling COVID on three fronts ― from testing to vaccines to contact tracing.

Hawaii’s surge in cases is driving up the number of people getting swabbed at the center’s testing site. It averages 150 vehicles in a daily two-hour window, and the positivity rate is climbing.

“We’re somewhere between 21 and 25% right now. So 1 in 4 is testing positive,” said Pat McKenzie, WCCHC’s head of clinical response.

Waianae Comp has the only emergency room on the Waianae Coast.

ER physician Dr. Scott Padavan said the severity of cases with the Delta variant is cause for concern.

“People who are coming in now certainly are much sicker,” he said.

The vast majority of COVID positives are among unvaccinated individuals, but some have been fully vaccinated. The emergency room isn’t built for in-patient care.

“We’re facing situations here, not at all infrequently, where we have to board people and treat them almost as if we were a tertiary care center or a hospital,” Padavan said.

Extremely ill patients are taken by ambulance to whatever hospital has beds. The center’s epidemiologist said the Waianae community is in crisis mode.

“If you live on the Waianae Coast and you’re unvaccinated, it’s less of an issue of if you’re going to get COVID, it’s almost when you’re going to get COVID,” said Jacob Schafer, Waianae Comprehensive’s director of infection control.

“It is that transmissible. It will come and find you.”

The center’s team of contact tracers work 12-hour shifts and they’re falling behind.

“In the time that I’ve lived and practiced in Hawaii and at Waianae Comp, I’ve not experienced anything like this,” Padavan said.

But the crisis has inspired more people to get vaccinated.

“Where we used to maybe vaccinate, just in our vaccine clinic, 30 to 40. Now we usually vaccinate 125 each day. All of our satellite clinics are also giving vaccines,” McKenzie said.

The community health facility has a freezer to store the Pfizer vaccine.

Schafer said the medical facility administered nearly 20,000 doses, but most were done early in the pandemic. He hopes for another surge in shots because only about a third of the coastline is fully vaccinated.

“I know sometimes in the health field we tend to issue these dire warnings, but this really is case critical,” he said.

“We have large extended families out here that are wonderful, and they’re starting to see, ‘Hey, we’ve gotta get this under control somehow,’” McKenzie said.

If you live on the Waianae coast and you need COVID information, call the WCCHC hotline at 808-697-3170.

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