Federal Funds To Be Used To Expand State Laboratory, and Department Staff

May 14, 2020

Hawaii received another $50 million of federal funding to expand contact tracing and COVID-19 testing. The state Department of Health hopes that about half will be spent on improvements on the state laboratory.

The state laboratory in Pearl City was built 25 years ago. State health director Bruce Anderson explained that it is in need of repair and expansion.

Other portions of the federal funds will be used to increase the department’s work force.

“Approximately $6 million of the funds will be used to support expanding staff for the epidemiology branch, laboratory staff and training,” he said.

“Approximately $2.4 million dollars was allocated for the contact tracing training program at the University of Hawaii, which we are looking to support the program statewide. Some of that money is going to support staff at the district health offices on the neighbor islands to enhance its ability there.”

The University of Hawaii will be training contact tracers for between two days and three months depending on the person’s health education background.

The university hopes to increase the state’s number of contact tracers from 80, including 30 volunteers, to 300.

The state’s low numbers of tracers have been criticized by officials such as Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

However, increasing the number of trackers, and their caseload, would be a big improvement from a few months ago.

Anderson noted that each tracker can now keep track of about 20 close contact of an infected person.

“When we started into this we were lucky to monitor 5 people per staff person assigned to contact tracing, that’s changed for a number of reasons,” he said.

“We have a new application which has increased our ability to monitor cases that are identified and our contact tracers have been able to not only look at new contacts but also monitor the condition and status of people who had been identified earlier.”

Anderson explained that social distancing has also contributed to limiting the number of close contacts per patient.

Hawaii tests about 1000 people a day for COVID-19, mostly through private labs, but Anderson said that can now surge to 5,000 per day.