VIDEO: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Department of Health Whistleblower Reveal Lies, Call For Immediate Action & Congressional Oversight

August 14, 2020
Press Release
Honolulu, HI—Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was joined by three medical experts, including a Department of Health employee whistleblower, exposing the lies coming from the Department of Health leadership regarding contact tracing efforts in Hawai’i.  State leaders, including Governor David Ige, have long assured the public that sufficient contact tracing staff were in place.  However, the whistleblower revealed that in fact there were less than 20 people statewide conducting contact tracing, and that they are extremely overwhelmed and unable to conduct contact tracing for many of the positive cases in the state. 
 
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard called for a change in state leadership, and an immediate expansion of contact tracing and testing capacity. The congresswoman also announced that she is working with congressional leaders to conduct oversight over the state’s COVID-19 response, as over $50 million in federal funding awarded to the state to improve testing and contact tracing, appears to have been misspent or gone unused. 
 
Rep. Gabbard was joined at the press conference by Dr. Jennifer Smith, an Epidemiological Specialist/Influenza Surveillance and Response Coordinator in the Hawaiʻi Department of Health’s Disease Investigation Branch, with an expertise in virology and pandemics. She is one of less than 10 case investigators on the island of Oʻahu who is conducting contact tracing. 
 
 
“For the last three months, we have heard wildly different and conflicting information coming from state leaders about how many active contact tracers they employed. All along, Governor Ige and his state health leadership assured the people of Hawaii, not to worry, that they had it under control. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Thanks to the bravery of Dr. Jennifer Smith, a Department of Health employee who has spoken publicly about how little contact tracing is going on in the state, we now know state leaders were lying to us. Even as they reported dozens or even over 100 contact tracers were working, in reality, there were around a dozen contact tracers working statewide, overwhelmed and ill-equipped to do their job,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
 
“The lies and gross negligence coming from state leaders has resulted in thousands more infected, hundreds hospitalized, and an increasing death toll. How many more people need to die before state leaders take necessary action?” asked Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “As the Chief Executive of our state, Governor Ige is responsible.  His failure to take action, and his decision to keep Dr. Bruce Anderson and Dr. Sarah Park in power even after they have lied numerous times to the people of Hawaii, is a slap in the face to every single person in our state, especially those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. The people of Hawaii deserve the truth, and leaders who will fight for them and defeat this virus. I am working with Congressional leaders to ensure Federal oversight and accountability occurs over how taxpayer dollars are being used.”
 
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard stated that she has raised these urgent concerns with Congressional leaders, who share her concerns and are committed to conducting oversight to ensure federal resources provided for testing and tracing are being used to serve the people of Hawaii. 
 
“Today we find ourselves greatly under-funded, under-resourced, and unable to serve the State of Hawaiʻi at the level that is necessary to respond appropriately to the spread of the virus. The few contact tracers that are working right now have been struggling to keep up, struggling to serve our communities, and struggling to keep people safe during this pandemic. We’re doing the best we have with what we have, but with more, we could do so much more. I am sounding the alarm now, asking for help,” said Dr. Jennifer Smith. “The bottom line: we don’t have enough, and we need more. Someone needs to speak up. Someone needs to say something. We need a change. We need a more effective plan to handle the situation.”
 
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Dr. Smith were joined by two specialists, Dr. DeWolfe Miller, an expert infectious disease epidemiologist, and Dr. Scott Miscovich, a physician and the president and founder of Premier Medical Group Hawaiʻi, who is running COVID testing sites across the state. Dr. DeWolfe Miller and Dr. Scott Miscovich spoke to the importance of contact tracing and testing in stopping COVID-19, and criticized the state’s approach. 
 
“Contact tracing is a technique that has been around for decades. It’s what we used to eradicate smallpox. We need a full court press. We need every contact tracer we can get our hands on recruited and put in place to help stop this epidemic,” said Dr. DeWolfe Miller. “And you have to test every contact - or this epidemic will get away from you. Testing people only with symptoms, which has been the approach here, is bound to fail. This disease has spread under our noses because we haven’t been testing enough.”
 
“Contact tracing should occur within 24 hours in an ideal setting. If you test positive, you should know immediately and should be put in quarantine. The roadmap was there from many successful countries. As a state, there was a roadmap for our Department of Health and it seemed like they purposefully denied every single thing that worked. As a result, our contact tracers could not do their job. They could not serve the people of Hawai‘i in the way they needed to be served,” said Dr. Scott Miscovich. “We are all being lied to. Lives will continue to be lost unless we do something about this. The failure of leadership is why we are here now.”
 
During the press conference, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard spoke to over $50 million in federal resources that were made available to Hawai‘i for testing and tracing. She pointed to conflicting claims from state health officials that there were dozens or over a hundred contact tracers, which proved to be a lie. She also called on Governor Ige to restore trust in the Department of Health and fix the failed contact tracing operation by:
 
  • Immediately activate at least 560 contact tracers, with hundreds more on standby should the infection numbers continue to climb.
  • Improve Hawai‘i’s testing capability so that everyone can be tested, not just symptomatic individuals. It has been known for months that asymptomatic carriers can infect others and currently over 40% of COVID-19 carriers have no symptoms at all. Without rapid results testing capability, contact tracing efforts will be ineffective.
  • Medical staff and healthcare workers must be regularly tested, and those treating COVID patients must be dedicated to that task alone, and not be permitted to serve non-COVID patients. 
  • Provide daily public reports on the total number of active contact tracers, their individual caseload, and the average time it takes for them to reach all contacts for each case — something that must be done within 24 hours.
 
From the outset of the coronavirus public health crisis and COVID-19 pandemic, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has been an outspoken advocate for the need to contain the virus and prevent its spread. She has argued that doing so will limit infections, reduce strain on the public health system, and create the conditions necessary for the country’s economy to be revitalized.
 
Background: Through public statements and in virtual meetings with constituents and officials, Rep. Gabbard has outlined the key elements to successfully containing the virus: preventing its introduction into a population, robust testing to detect it if the virus does make it into a community, and a large contact tracing workforce to identify where it might spread. She has also pointed out that testing and tracing must be done quickly, ideally the same day, in order to prevent those infected and potentially infected from exposing others.
 
Through her work in Congress and with Hawai‘i’s Congressional delegation, the state has received over $50 million in federal aid to go toward 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 Reserves. Learn more about Rep. Tulsi Gabbard…
 
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