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omori tests a patient for covid
Jill Omori tests a patient for COVID-19 at the POST site in Keʻehi Lagoon.

About 200 individuals (approximately 15 per week) have been tested through the Hawaiʻi Homeless Outreach and Medical Education (H.O.M.E.) Project since the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Tropical Medicine Clinical Laboratory (TMCL) began operating last year. The laboratory remains steadfast in its role to provide COVID-19 testing to underserved populations throughout Oʻahu.

Staff and volunteers at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) have been providing free, rapid result testing since November 2020. On-location testing events have already reached many, including houseless individuals every Tuesday at the City and County of Honolulu’s Provisional Outdoor Screening and Triage (POST) facility located in Keʻehi Lagoon Beach Park. In addition to taking in patients at the Keʻehi site, H.O.M.E. has also conducted spot testing for symptomatic individuals at its other clinics.

Faculty and staff volunteers administer the COVID-19 tests, and UH medical students assist in providing free health services, including medical, social and vision.

Testing provides transition to next step

“At the POST site, we test all new individuals entering the program and also do additional testing if there are any exposure concerns or if someone becomes symptomatic,” said Jill Omori, associate professor and director of the H.O.M.E. Project. “The goal of the testing is to keep everyone safe, but also to provide tests so that they can transition into more stable housing options. It is very rewarding to be doing our part during the pandemic and to help these individuals, especially the kids!”

According to Omori, many of these permanent shelters require a negative COVID-19 test to be accepted, the next step to a better life for many houseless individuals.

Ivan Yang is one of the volunteers at the POST site who conducts the tests outside of his normal responsibilities as a logistics coordinator at JABSOM. Like Omori, he is glad to be making a difference. “Knowing that they can benefit from our efforts makes it all worthwhile. I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to provide my time and skills to serve in this capacity,” said Yang.

“Although a number of vaccines are available, testing remains a key tool in the public health arsenal as vaccines are not yet broadly available, and new more infectious virus strains can cause outbreaks,” said TMCL Community Liaison Rosie Alegado.

Ongoing testing

TMCL continues to reach underserved populations by working closely with community health centers and leveraging partnerships with community organizations throughout Oʻahu. In December, the lab targeted the Filipino population by providing testing at various churches in communities such as Kalihi, Waipahu and Ewa Beach. They also continue to provide on-location testing at Pālolo Valley Homes and within the UH community.

Visit the TMCL website for information on how to get a COVID-19 test and for upcoming community testing events.

This effort is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

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