Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: Dr. Park’s Departure Provides Cautious Optimism for Department of Health Action

September 4, 2020
Press Release
Honolulu, HIToday, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) issued the following statement after it was announced that Dr. Sarah Park, the Hawai‘i Department of Health’s Chief Epidemiologist is taking a leave of absence:
 
“I’m cautiously optimistic that this change will provide new leaders within the Department of Health an opportunity to step up and fix the truly fatal flaws the people of Hawai‘i have suffered from under Drs. Anderson’s and Park’s tenures.
 
“The public trust has been broken. New leaders in the Department of Health have the opportunity to begin to rebuild that trust by hiring and building a robust testing and tracing operation, and providing transparency to the people about the progress that’s being made. Every day we are losing our loved ones to this virus. We must do all we can to act urgently to defeat it. Allowing the status quo to continue will only result in more unnecessary sickness and death.”
 
Background: Dr. Park’s departure was announced just a day after Dr. Emily Roberson, who had been tapped to fix the state’s virtually non-existent contact tracing program, requested a leave of her own, citing frustration with DOH leadership issues which included Dr. Park blocking her efforts to hire more contact tracers.
 
On August 14, 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 has 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 Reserves. Learn more about Rep. Tulsi Gabbard...
 
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