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Building Hawaiʻi’s COVID-19 Testing Capacity

Jun 24, 2020 | He‘eia, Hawai'i, Prepared Communities, Reserves, What We Work For

“Reserves are a public resource,” says Katy Hintzen, coastral training program coordinator at Heʻeia Reserve. “If a hurricane hit, you wouldn’t go on as usual. You would marshall the resources you have to help the public in what they need.”

As part of the University of Hawaiʻi COVID-19 Working Group, the Heʻeia Reserve is working to expand local COVID-19 testing capacity in partnership with the City and County of Honolulu. 

Aided by $3.9 million in federal funding, the partnership’s goal is to perform up to 100,000 tests—potentially reaching up to one-tenth of the island’s residents. To do this, the University has established a diagnostic and research laboratory, the Tropical Medicine Clinical (TMC) Laboratory, with support from Reserve Coastal Training Program (CTP) coordinator, Katy Hintzen.

“The TMC Lab will augment existing local COVID-19 testing capacity and provide surge capacity to effectively respond to dynamic changes in testing needs,” says Hintzen.  “The lab will also marry diagnostic testing with ongoing, university-level research.” 

Hintzen provided administrative support, including grant writing andcommunications products, for the partnership. She also contributed to outreach and engagement coordinating across the University, the community, philanthropic organizations, government agencies, and Oʻahu’s seven community health centers.

“A lot of what CTP does is build connections across different stakeholders with different worldviews,” she says “And a lot of it is translating science for decision makers. Virology was a different science than I’m used to, but the skillset from CTP and Reserve work translated well.”

The close ties between the University and the Reserve helped make the connection with CTP. Dr. Rosie Alegado, community liaison lead for the new TMC Lab and associate professor of Oceanography at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, had worked with Hintzen on Heʻeia Fishpond restoration efforts. She is enthusiastic about the TMC Lab’s capacity to support the needs of the Hawaiian Islands as they reopen.

“Hawaiʻi may see an increase of infections as restrictions relax. We believe it is important that the University provides supplemental capacity in case there is a surge of cases,” said Dr. Alegado. “We want to be able to serve our islands as needed.”

Dr. Alegado (left) and Katy Hintzen (right) lead a workshop on long-term community-researcher partnerships at He’eia Fishpond.

While the focus remains on COVID-19 for now, once the pandemic has passed, the TMC Lab will be a resource to study other pathogens that affect the communities of the Hawaiian Islands.

“Hawaiʻi has contagious diseases that are different from the continental U.S. because of our climate, such as dengue fever, Zika virus, and others,” says Hintzen. “There’s a need for additional diagnostic testing and diagnostic testing that’s linked to research. From a resilience standpoint, these things will be worse with climate change in the future.”

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ReservesHe‘eia, Hawai'iBuilding Hawaiʻi’s COVID-19 Testing Capacity