(BIVN) – Establishing the preconditions for relaxing the statewide shutdown due to the pandemic was a topic of discussion during Monday’s online meeting of state lawmakers.
The Hawaii State House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness gathered virtually using webcams, and broadcast the meeting online.
According to a presentation by Tim Brown, a Senior Fellow at the East-West Center, it all hinges on “having the capacity to rapidly test suspected cases, trace their close contacts, and quarantine them to stem the growth of the epidemic.”
“In addition, we must have data to inform triggers for reimposing lockdown should the epidemic surge,” Brown said.
Hawaiʻi is currently under a statewide stay-at-home order until the end of April. On Monday, the state reported one of the lowest numbers of new infections in several weeks (5 adults). The department of health said it “cautions not to read too much into the low number of cases, as it is likely a reflection of the rate of test reporting over the weekend.”
“The worry I do have is that because the social isolation measures have been so effective, only a small fraction of the population has contracted the COVID-19 virus so far,” Brown said. “Based on experiences with other coronaviruses, these people are likely to have some measure of at least temporary immunity to reinfection. However, the rest of the population – the other 99.9% percent of us – are still as vulnerable to infection as ever. This virus spreads remarkably easily and quickly in the absence of controls. Each person infected transmits the virus to 2 or 3 others, usually within a period of several days, and sometimes before they even develop symptoms. If we were to lift the shutdown measures now and go back to our previous way of life, we could easily find ourselves in a New York type situation within a month or two.”
“Thus, as we lift the restrictions,” Brown continued, “unless we are prepared to see this epidemic take off again we will need to identify new infections promptly, trace their close contacts, and get those people into isolation as quickly as we can.”
“This creates preconditions for lifting the shutdown,” Brown stated. “We must have a solid testing and contact tracing program in place, and we must have the ability to ensure isolation of close contacts of coronavirus cases from the community. If we reopen without these programs in place, we’re wearing blinders .”
Dr. Bruce Anderson, the director of the Hawaiʻi Department of Health, was on the meeting. “I think there’s an undue focus on this whole testing issue,” Anderson said. “Our testing doesn’t change anything that we do, honestly. The social distancing is what prevents the disease in our state.”
“The testing that we’re doing now,” Anderson said, “has been done largely for diagnostic purposes and as a way of confirming a person has COVID-19. But the decisions made on quarantine and isolation are made for long before we get a test result.”
“I’m not discounting the value of having tests available to us,” Anderson said, “but we do need to understand the limitations of those and not think that just because we have a test available, we have the problem solved. It’s a tool but it’s not going to be the solution to controlling the disease here. That’s going to come back to counted contact tracing, surveillance using antibody tests and other means and just continual vigilance on these social distancing issues.”