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DoH looks to move up final Honolulu COVID test for travelers

Some of the senior members of the COVID-19 Task Force
It is now 48 hours prior to travel, the move would make it 24 hours prior

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — With the three imported positive COVID-19 cases on two flights from Honolulu, the Health Department’s director has made the decision to look at moving up the last COVID-19 test to 24-hours prior to boarding a flight to the territory, says ASG Medicaid Office director Sandra King-Young, during a Fono joint hearing Wednesday, that focused on issues such as the positive cases, the TalofaPass system and related matters.

King-Young, responding to questions from Sen. Fai’ivae Iuli Godinet, explained that Medicaid is paying for the required COVID-19 tests done in Honolulu for travelers prior to boarding. The tests are done 10-days out, 5-days and the final test, is done 48-hours before traveling.

She said there are two testing sites in Honolulu — one at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport and the other at Ala Moana Shopping Center for travelers heading to the territory. And the Honolulu firm contracted to carry out the tests, can expedite the turn-around time of test results due to the short period involved in getting the tests done.

ASG Medicaid Office announced in an Aug. 26th news release that tests in Hawaii will be covered by the America Samoa Medicaid Program for bona fide American Samoa residents returning home.

“We have agreed with our testing provider, Capture Diagnostics, that they will prioritize testing for American Samoa travelers because of the time sensitivity of the testing protocols — results will be provided within 24 hours of testing,” King-Young is quoted in the release as saying.

During the Fono hearing, King-Young said that with the latest positive cases, the health director has made a decision to look at changing the last test to be carried out 24-hours before boarding. “The closer to the flight [time], the better,” she said.

Fai’ivae said he believes in getting the test done closer to the date of departure, pointing out that a there is no way to monitor or protect the traveler from being exposed to the virus after getting that last required test. This is also the same concern from several lawmakers regarding a traveler being exposed to the virus prior to boarding the flight even after testing negative.

At last week Thursday evening’s news conference, DoH’s Clinical Service acting director Dr. Elizabeth Lauvao told reporters that based on the test results of the two travelers on the Sept. 27th flight that tested positive, it appears that the individuals were recently infected with the virus before arriving in the territory.

The territory’s lead epidemiologist, Dr. Aifili John Tufa of DoH told reporters that the two positive cases are a reminder for “people — that you need to be able to live a conservative lifestyle in Hawaii before traveling here.”

During the Fono joint hearing, Dr. Lauvao briefed lawmakers about the first two flights from Honolulu, saying that the positive case from the Sept. 13th flight was immediately placed in isolation for 14-days at a government facility. And the traveler was doing well and showed no symptoms of the virus.

And the traveler tested negative before being released to go home where the traveler is required to undergo self-monitoring for seven-days. Thereafter, the traveler returns to DoH for a follow-up medical check.

For the passengers who tested positive on the Sept. 27th flight, they are in isolation for 14-days, along with the three passengers who came in “close contact” with the positive cases. The positive cases and the three close-contact are family members, who traveled together and roomed together upon arrival here.

DoH information sheet distributed to lawmakers shows Sept. 27th travelers in isolation are set for release on Oct. 15th — “pending full recovery and negative tests”. (DoH officials told reporters last week that the positive cases were doing well and showed no symptoms of the virus.)

All other travelers who remained in quarantine tested negative and so did all ASG personnel who worked the Sept. 27th flight, including bus drivers who transported travelers to the quarantine sites.

Dr. Lauvao explained that all arriving passengers deplane directly from the aircraft and onto waiting buses to be taken to quarantine. Through this process, the travelers are “not exposed to the community.”