(BIVN) – U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaiʻi) says another Democratic member of the U.S. House – California Representative Anna Eshoo, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcomittee on Health – is “demanding answers and transparency from Governor David Ige about how federal funds designated for contact tracing and testing have been used in Hawai‘i.”
Gabbard held a news conference last Friday, in which she criticized the Hawaiʻi Department of Health for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and introduced a DOH employee whistleblower who revealed what is really going on with the State’s contact tracing effort.
The number of cases of COVID-19 have risen dramatically in Hawaiʻi in the month of August, especially on Oʻahu.
Governor David Ige held a news confernce today from the Hawai‘i Convention Center, which has been converted into a contact tracing center with help from the Hawaiʻi National Guard.
“The crisis we face today is a direct result of our state’s failed leadership,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “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.”
Here is the full text of Rep. Eshoo’s letter to Governor Ige:
Dear Governor Ige,
I write to express my concerns about the worsening outbreak of COVID-19 in the state of Hawaii and the recently reported information about the status of contact tracing and testing in your state and I’m including questions to bring greater clarity regarding these issues.
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. On August 14th a whistleblower came forward to describe the challenges Hawaii’s Department of Health in partnership with the University of Hawaii have faced in carrying out tracking, testing and tracing programs. Since those reports, you have taken swift action to name a new head of contact tracing for the state.
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.
To better understand the exponential increase in COVID-19 cases in Hawaii, I request complete responses to the following questions on or before August 28, 2020:
1. To date, how many contact tracers are and have been on staff weekly since COVID-19 was declared an emergency by your office?
• How many contact tracers have been trained?
• How many have volunteered?
• What is the training process and qualifications for contact tracers?
• What are the duties of contact tracers as outlined by the state?
• What are the benchmarks that must be achieved with contact tracing of each case, i.e. ideal and maximum period of time to reach all contacts for each case, testing of all contacts, other services offered for those in isolation, etc.?
2. What is the State’s response to the whistleblower’s allegations regarding the discrepancy between currently active contact tracers and the Department of Health reporting false numbers to the public?
3. To date, exactly how much federal funding has been received by the state for the purposes of testing and contact tracing, and how it has been used?
• How many COVID-19 tests has the state administered?
• How many COVID-19 diagnostic testing platforms has the state purchased to increase its testing capability?
• What amount of these dollars remain unspent, and why?
4. What guidelines are the Department of Health and Governor’s office using to test, quarantine, and trace visitors, residents, medical professionals and staff? Please provide us with the State’s current guidelines and policies related to COVID-19, testing, healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients, and quarantine policy for positive cases.
5. Provide a detailed timeline of testing rates administered by the state, contact tracing records, and amount of funds allocated toward these efforts.
6. What specific actions will be taken to bring your State’s testing and contact tracing efforts up to nationally recommended standards? Please include your plan and your timeline to reach the national standard.
7. What oversight and accountability actions will be implemented to ensure key performance indicators in your contact tracing program are met?
8. Due to numerous instances of conflicting and false information being released to the public by your Department of Health regarding the number of contract tracers employed and their capabilities, what specific actions will you take to restore the integrity of the Department of Health?
Congressional oversight is essential to ensure that states have the resources they need to adequately respond to the ongoing pandemic and that taxpayer dollars are being spent responsibly to serve the public health interest. I thank you in advance for your cooperation and look forward to your timely response.
Anna G. Eshoo, Chairwoman
Subcommittee on Health
House Energy and Commerce Committee