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Hawaii Given Green Light To Set Up Local Coronavirus Testing

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Associated Press
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Updated 2/27/20 5:45 p.m.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given Hawaii the go-ahead to start preparing for coronavirus testing locally, a process that could begin as early as next week.

The CDC sent Hawaii testing kits at the beginning of the month. But those were discovered to be defective.

Other states found the problems with the kits while doing what’s called a verification test. That’s when labs, use samples provided by the CDC that should show positive or negative results.

State Epidemiologist Sarah Park says the CDC has now fixed those problems.

"We have components of the test kits in the state and they’ve said that we can start what’s called the verification process now so that it’s hopeful that we will be able to have that testing capacity as early as next week, and that’s really good news for all of us here in Hawaii," she said.

If the kits pass the verification tests, then health officials can start using them.

There are still no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the state.

Hawaii has sent no suspected coronavirus samples to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, raising questions about whether health officials were taking enough steps to prevent the spread of the illness in the islands. 

Park explained that CDC requires three conditions be met in order to qualify for coronavirus testing by its labs: fever, lower respiratory illness and a travel history to China within the last 14 days.

Park said the criteria are in place to conserve testing resources for those with severe illness.

No one in Hawaii has met the conditions, although doctors have sent the state health department samples taken from patients suspected of having the virus.

“Some of these specimens that get submitted, maybe they have the travel history, but they either have no symptoms when we follow up — so basically just someone who really insisted on getting tested. We are not doing that kind of testing,” she said. “[People] may have no fever, but they might have a cough — that doesn’t fall into a person under investigation.”

NPR reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has apparently resolved a problem that has hindered testing for coronavirus. That development would mean dozens of labs around the country could begin testing as early as next week.

Until then, any samples that meet the criteria have to be sent to the CDC laboratory in Atlanta, Georgia, to get results -- a process that could take as long as a week or more.

The CDC has tested 445 samples and confirmed 14 cases nationwide.

Last month, the Trump administration restricted entry of people from China into the U.S.  and required Americans returning from locations heavily impacted by the outbreak to be quarantined.

On Monday, the CDC issued a level three travel warning covering South Korea, urging travelers to avoid non-essential travel to that country. South Korea has the most cases of coronavirus following China.

The CDC also posted a level two notice for Japan, which means travelers should practice "enhanced protections" to avoid catching the virus.

Patients who visited those countries within the last two weeks could also qualify for CDC testing. However, those will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Park said while the state health department sends samples to the CDC for the coronavirus test, doctors also should check patients for other illnesses, such as the flu. Testing positive for another disease would eliminate a patient from having coronavirus, officially named COVID-19.

Park said she has seen physicians sending in a specimen and a form with no information on it. When there is a concern brought up about an individual, the department will contact the doctor for more information.

Due to the spread of the virus in Japan and South Korea, Park suspects that Hawaii will inevitably have to send a sample to CDC for testing.

“I anticipate that now, with concerns from not just Japan and Korea, but other areas, we may start to see more because those make up a much larger portion of people who travel,” she said. “The more people that have potential risk exposure, the more likely we may see someone who fulfills that case definition.”

There are still no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Hawaii, according to state officials. Sixty-one people are self-monitoring for symptoms in the islands under supervision from health officials.

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