HONOLULU — Hawaii has only a modest healthcare system and can’t be a hub for accommodating people potentially exposed to the rapidly spreading new virus that emerged in China in recent months, Lt. Gov. Josh Green said Monday.
He said the state only has the capacity to handle its own citizens and basic screening unless it gets significant support from the military.
“We are happy to do our part but only modestly as needed for very sick people or for our citizens,” Green said.
Green, who also is an emergency room physician, spoke after the U.S. government announced Honolulu would be one of 11 airports designated to receive U.S. citizens who have traveled in China within the last 14 days.
Hawaii was not currently expecting many potential patients, particularly after China Eastern Airlines, which operated the only direct flight from China to Hawaii, suspended service to the islands, Green said.
He said he’d like the federal government to provide space on a military base with at least 120 beds if a large-scale quarantine is required. He said he doesn’t anticipate that much would be needed, but the state needs to be prepared if the outbreak extends for months longer and breaks out further.
“At all costs we have to be safe,” Green said.
He said the Department of Homeland Security didn’t notify Hawaii in advance that Honolulu was going to be on the list of airports, though state officials were able to talk to department officials over the phone an hour or two after the announcement
Green said the federal government should have made arrangements for a quarantine location on a military base in Hawaii before the airport announcement. On Monday, the military made a site at Pearl Harbor available, Bruce Anderson, the director of the state Department of Health, told lawmakers.
Hawaii has been preparing to respond to global disease outbreaks for more than a decade. In 2005, it announced it would be the first state in the nation to start an airport virus monitoring program. It developed plans for limited quarantines and collected a supply of protective gear for doctors and nurses.
The state took those steps amid concerns that a deadly form of the H5N1 flu, which killed millions of birds from Asian to Europe and Africa, would mutate and begin to spread more easily among people.