Hundreds wait for hours for free take-home test from County of Maui
With some people waiting about three hours, hundreds of vehicles spilled out of War Memorial Gymnasium as people grabbed free COVID-19 test kits being distributed by County of Maui staff in Wailuku on Wednesday afternoon.
A line snaked from the gym parking lot out to Kanaloa Avenue and Kahului Beach Road, then on to Lower Main Street. Traffic slowed on side streets and afternoon traffic inched around those waiting for kits.
The BinaxNOW self-test kits were ordered by the County of Maui in anticipation of another outbreak, according to a county news release. About 2,000 test kits were onsite Wednesday, a county official said. They were given out on a first-come, first-served basis, with one kit per vehicle.
Haiku resident Michelle Malott, who was driving one of the first vehicles to receive a kit, had waited from about 12:30 p.m. She said she isn’t feeling sick, but that the test is for a co-worker who’s traveling and coming back to Maui.
“It’s lovely. I’m happy (the county is offering it),” she said.
“I was hoping it would be only offered to residents,” Malott added.
Mayor Michael Victorino’s chief of staff, Tyson Miyake, who was handing out free tests, said the administration anticipated that the distribution site would be busy, especially during the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. He said it would be difficult to sift through visitors to give the kits to residents only.
“We just want to help get this to people as quick as possible, especially if you are symptomatic and you cannot get a test,” Miyake said.
If the county gets more tests in the future, it could possibly schedule another free take-home test distribution day.
“We ordered these take-home test kits in anticipation of another outbreak of COVID-19, and this distribution is aimed at providing our residents with a fast and easy way to see if they have the virus and need to isolate at home,” said Victorino in a news release ahead of the event. “The omicron variant is highly contagious, and we need everyone’s help to identify positive cases early and slow the spread of the virus.”
State Department of Health Director Dr. Libby Char said during a news conference earlier in the day that acquiring and distributing take-home tests reflect a shift in how officials are dealing with COVID-19.
“In the early period, it was all about getting PCR tests,” she said in response to a question from Maui Now. “Now we’re shifting to more of a public health model, where the tests are more of a public health tool where people can do it in the comfort of their home and can test immediately when they think they have been exposed or (are) high risk.”
“We have been procuring to the extent we can, (the) at home test kits,” she added.
Char said take-home tests can be tailored for each situation, with fast results becoming an important tool.
Gov. David Ige said many governors have expressed the desire to access more rapid tests, which can be used in schools or other places of high traffic to curb possible outbreaks.
“I think every state has recognized, as these rapid tests have become more and more available, there are a lot of applications we all can see that would allow us to get back to a new normal,” he said.
* Maui Now News Director Wendy Osher contributed to this report.