Congress Demands Answers From Governor About Failure to Use Federal Funds for Coronavirus Testing & Contact Tracing
August 19, 2020
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard at a press conference last week adressing the media regarding revelations by a Department of Health whistleblower revealing that the Department had lied about the state of Hawai'i's contact tracing operation.
Honolulu, HI—Today, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) joined Rep. Anna Eshoo (CA-18), Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health in demanding answers and transparency from Governor David Ige about how federal funds designated for contact tracing and testing have been used in Hawai‘i. Representative Anna Eshoo has served in Congress for nearly 30 years and her committee exercises oversight over public health and quarantine, among other health-related issues.
“The crisis we face today is a direct result of our state’s failed leadership. Governor Ige and his team had months to hire, train and deploy a robust contact tracing team to prevent the very situation we face today. Months ago we worked in Congress to deliver over $50 million in funding to the state so that they had the resources to trace, test, and contain future COVID-19 cases. Yet, we have around a dozen people doing contact tracing today, who are so overwhelmed that they can only reach a small number of individuals who have contracted COVID-19. If Governor Ige and his team had done what they were supposed to do, we could have prevented the major outbreak we are experiencing today that has taken more lives and resulted in so many of our kupuna, families and keiki getting infected and sick. This is a punch in the gut to Hawai‘i residents who have sacrificed so much to try to prevent the spread of this virus, only to see our state leaders failing the people,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “This is inexcusable. The people of Hawai‘i deserve better, and they deserve answers. So far, we are getting none. I want to thank Rep. Anna Eshoo for her leadership in seeking the truth and getting answers to determine where over $50 million in federal funding has gone, and what specifically is our state doing with contact tracing.”
In the letter, Rep. Eshoo noted.
“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.”
Rep. Eshoo called for answers:
“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.”
Background: Last week, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard hosted a press conference in Honolulu where she was joined by a Department of Health (DOH) whistleblower who came forward to expose the failure of Hawai‘i’s DOH to hire, train and deploy a contact tracing operation in response to the coronavirus crisis. During the press conference, Rep. Gabbard and public health experts outlined the resources that Congress provided for testing and contact tracing efforts, the vital role they play in preventing the spread of the virus, and how the state went from having virtually no new infections to becoming one of the most infectious states in the nation — a trait directly impacted by the quality of contact tracing efforts. Rep. Gabbard reiterated her call for Dr. Bruce Anderson and Dr. Sarah Park to be fired for their negligence and inability to do their jobs.
The whistleblower noted that, contrary to public statements made by DOH leaders over the past several months, the contact tracing program had just over a dozen staff — not anywhere close to the numbers being cited by DOH leaders, and not nearly enough to prevent the spread of the virus. They became quickly overwhelmed as infections skyrocketed, and remain so today.
Through her work in Congress with Hawai‘i’s Congressional delegation, the state has received over $50 million in federal funding for testing and tracing efforts. She is continuing to fight for more COVID-19 testing and tracing resources in the next round of federal emergency assistance currently being negotiated in Congress.
As the virus was first spreading in different parts of the world, Rep. Gabbard called on the Trump Administration to suspend flights from South Korea and Japan given the prevalence of COVID-19 infections in these countries, until they could guarantee all passengers would be tested prior to boarding flights to the United States.
In early April, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard called for the resignation of Hawai‘i Department of Health officials Bruce Anderson and Dr. Sarah Park because of their repeated failures that put the health, lives and well-being of the people of Hawai‘i at risk. She added that should they refuse to step down, Governor Ige should fire them.
On March 21, Rep. Gabbard called for an immediate implementation of a 14-day self-quarantine for all passengers arriving in Hawaiʻi, both visitors and returning residents. The state later announced that a self-quarantine requirement would be implemented on March 26, but Rep. Tulsi Gabbard continued to advocate for an immediate implementation. She also sent a letter calling on the President to issue a minimum two-week, nationwide shelter-in-place order — a proven, effective solution to slowing the spread of the virus.
In July, with COVID-19 cases once again on the rise and reaching record numbers in several states, including Hawai‘i, she called on Governor Ige to continue the 14-day quarantine in effect for trans-Pacific travelers. The surge of COVID-19 infections saw a return to hospitals strained to the brink to treat new cases as well as a shortage in testing reagents, personal protective equipment, and medical supplies. The quarantine measure was set to be eased on August 1, but in the days following Rep. Gabbard’s statement and concerns raised by Hawai‘i’s Mayors, the Governor decided to keep the protective measures in place through the end of August.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has been working since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis to bring federal funding to Hawaiʻi, and keeping Hawaiʻi residents informed on Congressional action and COVID-related updates throughout the pandemic through a resource hub on her website, regular e-newsletter updates, and virtual town hall events including public officials and community leaders. She has also called for more decisive action from the State of Hawaiʻi to increase contact tracing and testing capacity utilizing the federal resources secured by the congressional delegation.
About Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is serving her fourth term in the United States House representing Hawai‘i’s Second District, and serves on the House Armed Services and Financial Services Committees. She previously served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Homeland Security Committee. She was elected to the Honolulu City Council in 2010, and prior to that at age 21, was elected to the Hawaiʻi State Legislature in 2002, becoming the youngest person ever elected in the state. Tulsi Gabbard served in the Hawaiʻi Army National Guard for over 17 years, is a veteran of two Middle East deployments, and continues to serve as a Major in the Army Reserve. Learn more about Rep. Tulsi Gabbard...
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