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Hawaii spending $13 million for health care protection

  • VIDEO COURTESY HAWAII STATE SENATE

  • BRUCE ASATO / MARCH 16
                                Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, named “incident commander” of Hawaii’s coronavirus response, speaks during a news conference March 16.

    BRUCE ASATO / MARCH 16

    Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, named “incident commander” of Hawaii’s coronavirus response, speaks during a news conference March 16.

Some $13 million in state money is being used for Hawaii’s emergency management agency to buy personal protective equipment for health care workers responding to the coronavirus pandemic, Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, “incident commander” of Hawaii’s coronavirus response told the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 today.

Hara also told state Senators that he has drafted a letter — that Gov. David Ige signed — asking President Donald Trump that Hawaii “be placed on his national priority list.”

Hawaii is also asking for federal Department of Defense funds to pay for Hawaii National Guard salaries and benefits during the novel coronavirus pandemic. But the proposal is getting “a lot of push back from the Secretary of Defense (Mark Esper) on that,” Hara said.

If Hawaii reaches “surge capacity” during the pandemic, Hara said the Army Corps of Engineers can convert empty hotel rooms to treat COVID-19 patients into a “negative pressure room.”

While there may be a need for ventilators and respirators, the larger need will be for health care workers, Hara said.

“That’s really the critical shortfall we have in the state from my view,” Hara said.

He said that U.S. military commanders may not make military health care workers available to treat civilian COVID-19 patients in Hawaii.

“They are still very concerned about North Korea and China,” he said.

Asked whether federal employees in Hawaii must report to work rather than self-isolate at home, Hara said, “all federal employees are exempt.”

Asked about the status of Lt. Gov. Josh Green in leading Hawaii’s response to COVID-19, Hara said Green is still making suggestions and guidance. But “only a handful” of state officials meet daily at 9 a.m. to discuss Hawaii’s response.

That gathering does not even include county mayors, Hara said, to protect them from “some of the decisions we make,” which, like Italy, could include decisions of “who lives and dies.”

Hara also said that none of the nearly 300 passengers aboard a Norwegian Cruise Line cruise liner that arrived on Oahu Tuesday had any coronavirus symptoms. They were all medically screened, put on shuttle buses to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport and boarded a chartered plane to Australia.

NCL paid all costs, Hara said.

All of the passengers “did not go into the actual airport,”Hara said.

He said “there was absolutely no risk.”

Hara asked people to email suggestions to covidkokua@hawaii.gov, but said some of the emails that reach Hawaii’s emergency management agency so far “are not legal.” Others have offered to use their private land for storage, Hara said.

Businesses and others seeking exemptions to emergency orders also can email covidexceptions@hawaii.gov.

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