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Legislator calls for Lt. Gov. Josh Green to take over COVID-19 response

Rep. Cynthia Thielen is calling for the state Legislature to appoint Lt. Gov. Josh Green as Hawaii’s COVID-19 emergency director.

Thielen, who is working remotely from her home, said she wants a House resolution passed that would have the Legislature fund and appoint Green to the position.

Green, an emergency room physician, has been part of Gov. David Ige’s administrative effort on the COVID-19 pandemic, and has openly pushed the governor and state officials to do more to prevent the spread — advocating stringently for turning away cruise ships and restricting travelers coming into the state.

Sources told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the governor has ordered some officials and state agencies not to work with Green, who has also not been appearing at the most recent briefings by the state on the pandemic.

Gov. David Ige responded to the allegations in a Facebook post Tuesday night: “The Lt. Governor is not banned from news conferences and meetings. In this new COVID-19 reality, we are reinventing the way state government conducts business while implementing appropriate social distancing in meetings, news conferences and other activities. These gatherings are now limited to no more than 10 people. Therefore, we are bringing in those who are most directly involved with specific topics that are being discussed at our meetings and news conferences.”

“All I care about right now is slowing the virus and saving lives,” Green told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “I was working on healthcare crises in Hawaii as a National Health Corps scholar, an ER doctor, a representative and as a senator before David Ige became governor and I will be working on them long after he leaves office. “

In a statement, Ige’s office said that Green has not been banned from new conferences and meetings.

“In this new COVID-19 reality, we are reinventing the way state government conducts business while implementing appropriate social distancing in meetings, news conferences and other activities,” the governor’s office said. “These gatherings are now limited to no more than 10 people. Therefore, we are bringing in those who are most directly involved with specific topics that are being discussed at these meetings and news conferences.”

The number of coronavirus cases in Hawaii climbed to 90 on Tuesday — skyrocketing from just a single case reported on March 6. The pandemic is threatening to overwhelm the state’s health care system.

Ige on Monday implemented statewide restrictions on movements and activities of Hawaii residents to try to slow the spread of the disease, and had earlier asked tourists to stay away. But his actions followed calls from Green and others in the medical community, as well as from some state officials and business leaders.

House Speaker Scott Saiki had urged Ige to establish a statewide stay-in-place order as the four counties each imposed wide-ranging and uneven regulations to help stop the spread of the virus. Before Ige’s order, Honolulu and Maui had joined municipalities including New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., in issuing stay-at-home orders.

Green and others had been vocal about the need to implement stricter screening at the airport and restricting flights, stopping cruise ships from coming to Hawaii, and banning tourists.

“Any strong recommendations on this crisis that I’ve made to stop cruise ships from coming (which could endanger our people), demanding broad testing statewide to see where the virus is, or pausing tourist travel to Hawaii to stop transmission have been made to prevent fatalities. It would be hard for me to believe that any governor would remove their colleague from important responsibilities for doing that,” Green said.

Thielen, Kailua-Kaneohe Bay, is calling for a special emergency reconvening of the state Legislature in order to name Green as Hawaii’s COVID-19 emergency director. Included in the appointment would be funding for the Green to operate in his new capacity.

“It’s dangerous for our community,” Thielen said in a phone interview. “Ige doesn’t have the health expertise that Green has. I’m hoping we can move ahead for this action.”

“Hawaii is extremely fortunate to have a lieutenant governor who not only is a medical doctor but who has worked in public health. Lt. Gov. Green is absolutely the right person to lead our state out of this very serious and frightening emergency. To silence him because of political or other reasons is a travesty. It is astounding that we, as legislators, would have to take this drastic step to forcibly make our governor do what is only right to protect our families and community.”


Writer Kristen Consilio contributed to this report.


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