Hawaii ends free COVID-19 testing program as cases rise

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii’s coronavirus positivity rate has more than doubled in the last month as mask mandates ended and demand for tests dropped.

Despite the rise, the state Department of Health Health stopped its free testing program Wednesday as federal funding ended. State organized vaccination efforts will also transition to traditional health care settings and a mobile vaccine program to reach people who can’t leave their homes will end.

The weekly average positivity rate rose from 2.9% a month ago to 7.1% this week, according to state health data. It is the fifth consecutive week of increases as the omicron BA.2 variant spread.

Tim Brown, an infectious disease modeler at the East-West Center in Manoa, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that he is alarmed because infection rates are climbing as testing is on the decline.

“Fundamentally what’s happening right now is that people have forgotten about COVID, but the reality is it is still spreading in the community,” Brown said. “We are clearly in a rising phase of the pandemic now.”

Despite an uptick, overall hospitalization numbers in Hawaii remain low.

The state spent nearly $80 million on its free testing program, Department of Health spokesman Brooks Baehr said.

“Most importantly,” he said, “there are still options out there.”