Contact testing expanded

LIHU‘E — Using digital software, the state Department of Health has expanded its ability to monitor those confirmed cases, and those who might be exposed to COVID-19.

The software, Health Space, is a digital survey designed to help DOH disease investigators identify new cases and allow them to monitor all close contacts to track and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The digital link to the survey is accessible to any device with web access.

By using a new digital health monitoring tool, people exposed to confirmed COVID-19 cases can gain access to health information through a secure link that will direct them to a survey and transmit their responses directly to the DOH, the press release states.

In the event of an outbreak, they would make contact tracing of a person infected with the COVID-19 more efficient, according to state DOH Kaua‘i District Health Officer Dr. Janet Berreman.

“Kaua‘i is fortunate that we continue to have this window of opportunity to build our capacity to respond efficiently in the event of a larger second wave,” Berreman said. “If we increase our capacity now, we will be well-prepared to manage when a second wave comes.”

When a person is identified as having close contact with a COVID-19 case, they will receive an initial phone call from the DOH investigator or public-health nurse to explain they are at risk of contracting coronavirus, Berreman said.

The digital survey conducted will be daily, and the contact of the case will provide an email or cell-phone number to receive the study, which will ask if they have a fever, cough, shortness of breath or other symptoms that could be signs of COVID-19.

In the event people don’t respond to phone calls to fill out the survey, a health-care worker will come to their house to gather the information, and the person will be monitored and quarantined until they are not sick.

If anyone tries to opt out, an investigator or nurse will call them to collect their health information.

“We estimate this tool may allow us to monitor up to five times more new contacts than we did previously,” Berreman said. “This will enhance our effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

The DOH on Kaua‘i has enough staff to handle the volume to conduct warm calls, according to Berreman.

This may not always be the case.

The number of residents tested for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is 1,888, or 1% of the island residents tested as of press time, according to data provided by the DOH.

“On Kaua‘i, we are encouraging health-care providers to test anyone who has any symptoms and exposure suggestive of COVID-19, especially if they have had contact with someone who is at a particularly high risk of severe illness,” Berreman said.

“The testing of close contacts is determined on a case-by-case basis. All close contacts are in quarantine for two weeks, during which time they are contacted daily by a public-health nurse and are evaluated medically if needed,” she said.

There are no active cases of COVID-19 on the island, but there have been 21 COVID-19 cases with zero deaths.

The state has a total of 629 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with a total of 17 deaths, according to recent World Health Organization numbers.

“If there is a surge with the reopening and an increase in travel, this digital tool may be a welcome addition to manage an unexpected increase in cases,” Berreman said.

“It is reassuring that these safeguards are in place and that the tool is being successfully incorporated in O‘ahu. We will work together with all of the counties to coordinate our activities and leverage expertise and resources.”

This week, Congress announced one health center on Kaua‘i is part of 14 health centers across Hawai‘i that will receive $3.8 million to expand COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. That health center is Ho‘ola Lahui Hawai‘i, set to receive $153,049.

The U.S. Health Resources &Services Administration-funded health centers will use this funding to expand the range of testing and testing-related activities to best address the needs of local communities, including the purchase of personal protective equipment; training for staff; outreach, procurement and administration of tests; laboratory services; notifying identified contacts of infected health-center patients of their exposure to COVID-19; and expansion of walk-up or drive-up testing capabilities.

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Jason Blasco, sports reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or jblasco@thegardenisland.com.

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