New reporting out yesterday from Hawaii Public Radio shows that the state Department of Health significantly exaggerated its capacity to perform contact tracing, while downplaying challenges facing the program.
In an interview with HPR yesterday, Gov. David Ige was asked if Health Director Bruce Anderson and State Epidemiologist Sarah Park still have his confidence.
"Yes, they do. We've had a team from the Department of Health that has been actively engaged with federal and county partners, really dealing with this COVID pandemic that we are all experiencing for the first time.
"We are focused on data and public health guidance and have been making decisions and, you know, implementing restrictions, I think, that has responded to the COVID-19 challenge that Hawaii has faced.
"Yes, we have seen in recent weeks, a rapid surge in the number of cases and I have directed the department to accelerate the hiring and expansion of more contact tracers in order to meet the surge."
State senators paid a surprise visit to the Department of Heath last week and described a desperate scene, with contact tracers in cramp quarters, working long hours, juggling more cases than they could handle and prioritizing some cases and leaving others aside.
In April, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard called for the resignation of Health Director Bruce Anderson and state Epidemiologist Sarah Park for what she described as their weak response to the pandemic.
This week, she renewed her criticism, urging the health department to fully mobilize trained but not hired contact tracers.
Park and Anderson have said they have 100 contact tracers and can draw on 450 trained workers, but senators found only 5 Hawaii National Guard members working full time on contact tracing while other employees were responsible for additional job duties.
“The sheer number of COVID-19 infections that we are continuing to see blow through the roof require extensive testing and contact tracing," Gabbard said in a statement.
"Congress has provided funding for contact tracing, and the Department of Health has over 400 trained contract tracers while only employing around 100 of them. There is no excuse not to actively employ all available, trained contact tracers, along with additional personnel from the Hawai‘i National Guard, to rapidly trace, investigate, and contain every single positive COVID case.”