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Ige declares state emergency in fight against mosquito illnesses


    Gov. David Ige speaks as George Szigeti, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, left, and Dr. Virginia Pressler, director of the Department of Health, look on during a press conference about vector and mosquito-borne illness today at the State Capitol.

Gov. David Ige sought to dampen tourist fears over mosquito-borne illnesses such as dengue fever and the Zika virus by signing an emergency proclamation Friday that beefs up mosquito-fighting efforts on Hawaii island, which will free up staff to return to Oahu, Kauai and Maui.

Ige’s emergency proclamation releases $2 million that will include funding for 10 more positions for Hawaii island beginning next week, said state Health Director Virginia Pressler.

The 10 positions include an entomologist, eight vector control staff and a communications worker to help dispel misinformation, Pressler said.

Tourism officials from Hawaii, Japan, Korea and China filled Ige’s conference room as George Szigeti, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said everyone is “all in support of this action.”

“There’s no reason to be alarmed,” Szigeti said.

Hawaii island, the only county to be hit by the dengue fever outbreak since Oct. 21, has seen some visitor cancellations, Szigeti said.

“We have had a little bit on the Big Island, as can be expected,” Szigeti said.

Ige added, “We want to let the world know that we are taking action to reduce the possibility of vector-borne diseases.”

Hawaii island’s dengue fever outbreak is “endangering the health, safety, and welfare of the people and therefore constitutes a public health emergency,” Ige’s proclamation reads.

Ige demured when asked if his emergency proclamation was the equivalent of declaring a state of emergency against mosquito-borne illnesses.

Instead, he reiterated the details of the proclamation, which include suspending laws and procurement rules and allowing Pressler to “take any and all measures necessary” to control vector-related outbreaks.

The 60-day proclamation also allows for mandatory immuniations and closures of property, if necessary.

Ige’s proclamation follows an expected funding request by President Obama to combat the Zika virus and a decision by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to open its emergency operations center at Level 1 to prepare for the virus.

“There have been no locally acquired Zika cases in the U.S. or Hawaii, and we’d like to keep it that way,” Ige said in a statement following his press conference. “This is about getting in front of the situation across the state. I will be coordinating planning efforts with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, all county mayors and Civil Defense coordinators.”

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