Local epidemiologist calls for better COVID data systems, reminder requirement for safe travel

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As the state faces a record rise in COVID-19 cases, a local epidemiologist says the state needs to better invest in the health department and its data systems to help curb the spread of COVID-19 .

Hawaiʻi on Tuesday hit a record 6,252 new cases of COVID-19 statewide. About 75% of the state is fully vaccinated.

The state Department of Health has temporarily stopped reporting positivity rates as it is inundated with countless tests.

“DOH systems have been unable to process the large volume of positive and negative cases in recent days. As a result, thousands of cases, both positive and negative, have gone unreported,” the department. “To expedite the processing and reporting of positive cases, DOH will suspend processing of negative cases.”

Hawaii Department of Health

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Hawaiʻi COVID-19 Dashboard on Tuesday, January 18, 2022.

East-West Center epidemiologist Tim Brown predicted this and warned people weeks ago to invest in a better quality mask.

“I think the latest numbers would indicate that we’re still trending up across the islands,” Brown said. “Again, we haven’t done anything to try and throw circuit breakers to slow this continuing spread.”

In light of the health department’s data reporting issues, Brown said he views the current situation as dire.

“I think the problem we have is that, again, I think we’ve exceeded the capacity of our already fairly undersupported Department of Health,” he told The Conversation. “We never really staffed the DOH with anything other than contact tracing branches during the COVID pandemic, even though it’s been two years at this point.”

He said the state clearly hasn’t updated its data systems as it should have.

“I think that kind of reporting would be almost automated at this point, so it wouldn’t require significant human intervention, at least to get the daily numbers,” Brown said.

“The hospital’s data system is also problematic. Most of us still rely on the numbers we get from Josh Green, rather than some kind of systematic reporting. And that’s not even done by the DOH. This is usually done through the hospital association.”

As for plans that could be put in place now, Brown called on the state to institute a recall requirement for the Safe Travels program.

“I’m still concerned about the general lack of response when we obviously have a growing epidemic on our hands,” Brown said.

He said the public should work from home if they can and stay out of crowded spaces.

Find more information about vaccine and testing sites at hawaiicovid19.com.

This interview aired on The Conversation on January 18, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

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