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Hawaii Coronavirus Test Proves Negative But Highlights State's Vulnerability

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Hawaii Gov. David Ige describes testing of a California health care worker who turned out not to have coronavirus, although she had cared for a patient in California who did. On the right is Deputy State Epidemiologist Sarah Kemble.

A Northern California health worker who had cared for a patient with coronavirus hopped a plane to visit Hawaii, arriving yesterday. Today, after alerted by federal officials, state health officials tested the woman and found she does not have coronavirus.

The case represents the first time Hawaii officials have discussed results of local testing for the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus. Health officials were able to use components of kits sent earlier this month from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to carry out the tests on the visitor, although some kit parts were deemed defective.

CDC gave state health officials the go ahead to use components of the kits for tests once they were verified to be working. The results from the health worker's sample affirmed that Hawaii still has no documented case of coronavirus, as state officials have been saying.

The case does, however, highlight the difficulty in restricting travel by visitors who have been exposed to the disease and why officials say it is inevitable that Hawaii will see coronavirus cases.

Gov. David Ige said in a Facebook Live session Friday that there are protocols the health care workers are to follow to help contain the virus. But it's not clear why the California worker still took the risk of traveling.

The woman had been under investigation when the CDC alerted state officials that she was headed for Hawaii.

State officials contacted her on her arrival and told her to quarantine herself in her hotel and to not interact with hotel workers. They then visited her this morning, found she had mild symptoms and collected a sample that turned out to be negative for COVID-19. Another test found she had the common cold.

Dr. Sarah Kemble, deputy state epidemiologist, said the rapid results illustrate why local testing is important. She said the visitor had mild symptoms and the sample was collected and quickly processed by the state health department lab.

Ige said he is expecting some economic impacts from the virus and will be organizing a group to keep on top of the effects on the business community. If tourism from Asia declines, Ige said the state plans to promote visits from such places as North America.

In a related development, state House Speaker Scott Saiki said Friday he will be introducing a resolution next week to form a committee to identify potential economic and financial impacts from coronavirus.

"Hawai'i's Department of Health, Department of Defense and other agencies have been focused on health preparedness," Saiki said. "But just as importantly, we also need economic and financial preparedness."

He said the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism reported a 7.3 percent drop in international passengers to Hawai'i in February and an estimated loss of $23 million in visitor spending due to the suspension of flights to and from South Korea.

Saiki said during the 2008-2009 recession, the state was forced to make budget cuts of $2.1 billiion over a three-year period. Among other steps, the state reduced the public school week to four days.

"We need to be prepared for what may happen with coronavirus and how that may affect our state. If we are prepared, we should be in a positiion to mitigate any impacts that the state may experience from the virus," Saiki said.

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