HONOLULU — Hawaii Gov. David Ige admonished state legislators for a tour of the health department by members of the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 to inspect the department’s contact tracing program.
Senators toured the Hawaii Department of Health Aug. 7 to review contact tracing operations at the invitation of the state epidemiologist, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Sunday.
The governor wrote last week to Senate President Ron Kouchi, a fellow Democrat, saying the five members of the committee were not courteous and “misled the surprised DOH employee” who answered the door.
The committee members blamed an unexpected arrival on State Epidemiologist Sarah Park, Ige said.
“Committee members ignored the security protocols and made their way into an area where contact tracing activities involving sensitive, protective health information were ongoing,” Ige wrote.
Park told the committee earlier this month that the health department had 105 active contact tracers and was adding more.
Park touted the role of contact tracers when advocating for $2.5 million in federal recovery funding to form a training partnership with the University of Hawaii. But her testimony was perceived by some as downplaying the necessity of tracers.
Democratic state Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole, a member of the COVID-19 committee, called Ige’s letter inaccurate and “petty.”
“People are dying and the governor’s response speaks for itself,” Keohokalole said Saturday. “This is a crisis and this is where his focus is?”
Park invited members of the committee to the health department and greeted them after their arrival, Keohokalole said.
“Sarah was pleased to have us go through,” Keohokalole said. “She could have said, ‘It’s not a good time.’ But she went out of her way to express her desire for more support for her division and her operation. They need more equipment, they need more staff. She continually said it.”
The health department recently hired Dr. Emily Roberson to manage the contact tracing program as head of the department’s Disease Investigation Branch.
The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.