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Hawaiʻi should require COVID-19 tests for all arrivals, epidemiologist Larry Brilliant says

AP Photo/Caleb Jones, File

Epidemiologist Larry Brilliant advocates for requiring COVID-19 tests from all arriving visitors and residents to keep the virus out of the islands. He says the coronavirus isn’t going away anytime soon — or maybe at all.

COVID-19 has been found in twelve different animal species, and efforts to achieve herd immunity through vaccination have yet to succeed. Brilliant says these are signs that the coronavirus is on its way to becoming “a forever virus,” like measles and yellow fever.

"It is a category of viruses that we can’t eradicate," Brilliant said. "We had a couple of chances to nip this pandemic in the bud, and we failed to do it... and now we have it everywhere in the world. So it will be with us for a very long time."

"The reality that COVID is going to be with us for a very long time doesn’t mean that the COVID that we know now — that sucks all the oxygen out of the air, that makes it impossible for us to meet with our family, can’t go into the hospital, unless you’re sick, and the hospitals are overrun with patients — this kind of a COVID isn’t going to be forever," Brilliant told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

Brilliant says Hawaiʻi is still in a strong position to protect itself from the virus as the only island state in the United States. He advocates for requiring COVID-19 tests from arriving visitors and residents to keep the virus from being inadvertently brought to the islands.

"I know it's easy enough for me to say, I'm an epidemiologist living in San Francisco, but really — if we want Hawaiʻi to be safe, to be able to do everything that the wonderful people in Hawaiʻi want to do, I think you have to go back to what worked in the past, which is exclude the virus from the island, invite everybody to come, but require them to leave their virus behind them. Come vaccinated and get tested, because even if you're vaccinated, you might be carrying the virus," Brilliant told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

A long time visitor to Hawaiʻi, he has been working with officials on the Big Island as the county tries to contain COVID cases. Brilliant also worked with the World Health Organization, helping to end the smallpox epidemic in the 1970s.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Oct. 18, 2021.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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