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DOH: Overwhelming surge in COVID tests delays reporting of both positive and negative counts

With the demand for COVID testing soaring, the state Health Department is having trouble processing all of test results.
Published: Jan. 15, 2022 at 5:18 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 16, 2022 at 3:36 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - With the record number of new cases, demand for COVID testing has also soared — so much so that the state Health Department is having trouble processing all of the test results.

In a bid to tackle the issue, the state announced Saturday it is suspending processing of negative cases for its statewide dashboard — probably for several weeks so that its system can catch up.

The state said the move will not affect its daily reports on new positive cases.

“DOH systems have not been able to process the large volume of positive and negative tests in recent days,” the state Health Department said, in a news release.

“As a result, thousands of cases, both positive and negative, have not been reported.”

The state also said it will shift the focus of its contract tracers, who will now concentrate on investigating clusters — especially in places like schools and nursing homes.

“We’ve reported over 48,000 COVID cases over the past two weeks. It would be unrealistic to believe our 378 investigators and contract tracers can contact each of these people,” said Dr. Sarah Kemble, state epidemiologist.

The move comes as the state hit a record 5,977 cases on Saturday — over a thousand more infections than the previous record earlier this month.

As testing data flows through the electronic reporting system, the system is stressed. Our essential DOH employees are also wrestling with tremendous challenges. We must adapt to address these circumstances,” Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char said.

Despite the soaring case loads, one key pandemic benchmark appears to be slowing: hospitalizations.

“It’s interesting that the hospitalizations for the past four days have been 339, 352 and 347 and 347 today,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green.

“It looks pretty much that we have plateaued in the hospitals, and I’m hopeful for that because it’s obvious a lot of doctors and nurses are out sick.”

Green said the return of hundreds of federally funded nurses to Hawaii later this month should also ease the pressure on the state’s hospitals.

“On Jan. 17, we should expect to get over 200 additional nurses and respiratory therapists and another 200 or 250 on the Jan. 24,” he said.

But the Health Department said the current hospitalization number is still too high.

“I think we should be very cautious and not fool ourselves because the number of people with Omicron because it’s so transmissible is significantly higher than the Delta variant,” Char said.

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