United State Congress Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who represents Hawaii Island and all the other neighbor islands plus rural O’ahu, talked with New West Broadcasting’s Sherry Bracken on Wednesday, Aug. 19, about the state’s response to COVID-19, its lack of doing appropriate contact tracing, concerns over federal monies allocated for tracing and testing, and the upcoming House bill addressing the issues with the post office.
Gabbard said she has serious concerns about the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, specifically regarding how and if the state is doing effective contact tracing. A whistleblower, Dr. Jennifer Smith, appeared with Rep. Gabbard last Friday at a press conference. Dr. Smith said despite the State Department of Health saying it had somewhere between 77 and 105 contact tracing, in reality there were few, and contact tracers were trying to handle 100 to 192 cases of COVID-19. Rep. Gabbard said Gov. David Ige and Dr. Bruce Anderson, head of the State DOH, must be clear about how many contact tracers they have, and how they are ramping up–though Rep. Gabbard said the ramp-up should have been done in May.
The State’s Congressional delegation (Gabbard, Rep Ed Case, and State Senators Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz) secured $50 million in funding to be used for contact tracing, testing, and more. Two days ago, Sen. Brian Schatz indicated his staff was having difficulty getting the state to explain how the funding was being used. Today, U.S. Congress Representative Anna Eshoo, chair of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health wrote a letter to Gov. David Ige asking that the state account for the monies allocated to it as part of the Federal CARES Act, funding that must be used for COVID-19 activities by December, 2020. The letter from Eshoo, in part, as she asked for an accounting of the funds:
“As you know, less than two months ago, Hawaii had the lowest number of COVID19 cases per capita of any state in the nation. However, this trend has reversed and now Hawaii has the highest infection rate in the United States. From early June through the end of July, your state’s cases more than tripled to 2,111 confirmed infections, and from July 31 through August 14, the state’s cases doubled and now stand at 5,042 positive cases. At the same time, your state has implemented a 14-day travel quarantine for travelers visiting the islands, which suggests that the cause of the recent resurgence of Hawai’i COVID-19 cases is attributable to widespread community transmission.
“Congress appropriated significant funding to states to ensure adequate resources to track, trace and respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. Hawaii has received over $50 million in federally appropriated funds through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Epidemiology and Lab Capacity Grants program. This funding was intended to be used to develop, purchase, administer, process and analyze COVID-19 tests, scale-up laboratory capacity, trace contacts, support employer testing, and support other testing-related activities, which are essential to containing the virus.”
Rep. Gabbard said if Congresswoman Eshoo does not get a response from the state that explains the specific use of the funding, there could be a congressional investigation. Rep. Gabbard has not been alone in her criticism of the state’s contact tracing effort. Lt. Gov. Dr. Josh Green and members of the State Senate and State House Select Committees on COVID-19 have expressed great concern and asked for transparency, as have outside health leaders.
Regarding the U.S. Post Office and the new Postmaster General’s ordering high speed sorting machines removed from several post offices and the blue mail boxes removed from several locations, Rep. Gabbard is a co-sponsor of a bill to be voted on this weekend to restore the post office to its status as of January, 2020, and halt changes until January, 2021. Gabbard said she’s confident it will pass the house, but said she learned today the Senate Majority Leader (Mitch McConnell) said he’s unlikely to bring it to a vote in the Senate.