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DOH to end free COVID testing, but some experts say it’s not the time to scale back

The state Department of Health said they are in the phase of moving from emergency response to disease management and will no longer provide free COVID testing.
Published: Apr. 19, 2022 at 9:46 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 19, 2022 at 11:20 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Department of Health said they are moving from emergency response to disease management when it comes to COVID and so will no longer be offering free testing.

From July 2021 toFebruary, DOH said they spent nearly $80 million on community testing. It also spent another $11 million on over-the counter tests for schools and to hand out across the state.

But the Health Department said it has run out of federal funding.

Because of this, Wednesday will be the last day for testing through Aloha Clear.

DOH said right now, demand for tests is low.

“Whereas, you know, the height of Omicron, was 11,000 to 12,000 people a day testing,” said DOH Spokesman Brooks Baehr. “So, the demand is down.”

Although there’s one less option for testing, Baehr said they’re looking toward managing COVID in a more traditional manner. “By people going to their health care provider, going to their doctor seeking advice,” said Baehr. “If they need a test, getting that test, and then taking it from there.”

Dr. Scott Miscovich, of Premier Medical Group, said with other variants out there — including the slightly more transmissible Omicron XE — people should err on the side of caution.

“I would say it’s probably coming at the wrong time because we are seeing increases across the eastern United States and pockets across the United States,” said Miscovich.

While the state is closing free testing sites, there are still other ways to get tested.

Starting Wednesday, the mobile lab at the airport will be open every day except Sundays. You can also order free tests from the federal government. Most pharmacies also have them in stock.

Pharmacist Cory Lehano, of Mauliola Pharmacy on Maui, said he’s seen an uptick in testing over the last week. “Just within, I would say, the past eight or nine days it has increased about 15%,” Lehano said.

He said they will continue to offer tests at no charge.

“We are one of a few partners that the county has enlisted to make sure that if in the event, there’s an immediate need for COVID-19 testing services,” said Lehano.

“We are available and ready to scale up at a moment’s notice.”

The state continues to rate “low” in transmissibility, according to the CDC. But experts caution that official COVID infection totals don’t include at-home tests, now the vast majority of positives.

“We have not advised that the governor implement any restrictions right now,” said Baehr. “Again, we’re in a pretty good place.”

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