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VIDEO: Mayor Kirk Caldwell criticizes State Department of Health for refusing testing offers

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Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell today criticized the State Department of Health for not providing coronavirus testing of more individuals and for rejecting the city’s offers to assist in the effort.

Caldwell said he is supporting the sentiment of approximately 80 medical professionals and other stakeholders who sent a letter to Gov. David Ige pleading with him to persuade the Department of Health to provide more testing, contact tracing and isolating and quarantine policies — and to accept more help doing so.

“It is clear to all of us, at this point, that despite the fact that Honolulu has tried to do testing, contact tracing and isolation, the responsibility lies square in the lap of the Department of Health leadership,” Caldwell said. “And we’ve done about as much as we possibly can.”

The mayor said the state’s failure to expand testing makes it more concerning as the city prepares to allow most retail businesses to reopen, under precautions, next Friday, and possibly restaurants as well toward the end of this month or early next month, he said.

When city officials told DOH that they were intending to move forward with its plans to do more testing, they were told that “if we do this, it could be illegal testing folks who do not have symptoms,” Caldwell said, adding that the agency did not elaborate.

“We’re going to push forward on this,” he said. “We believe that testing, contact tracing and isolation are critical components of putting the public’s health and safety first and foremost as we begin to open up our economy.”

Neither Health Department officials, nor Ige’s Hawaii COVID-19 Joint Information Center were immediately available for comment.

The 46-page letter by the health professionals said there needs to be “more agile, better resourced public health leadership at the state level. We need leaders who will respond rapidly and effectively to outbreaks. They must be empowered to extinguish brush fires quickly and prevent the exponential growth in new cases.”

More robust but appropriately targeted testing” is the key to controlling the spread of the coronavirus, the letter said.

“We need to continue to increase capacity for testing in three sectors: state lab, hospital labs and private labs,” the letter said. “The state will need all the help it can get and should encourage all hospitals and private physician groups to provide more testing and provide more results to the DOH system.”

Because now there is good evidence that a significant number of people testing positive have no symptoms, “DOH should do representative sampling of populations throughout the state to get a feel for prevalence of the virus in the community as the epidemic progresses,” the letter said. “This could be active surveillance instead of merely relying on passive samples submitted through (the) influenza screening system.”

Additionally, there needs to be more rapid and thorough contact tracing; more effective isolation and quarantine; special plans for “high density housing groups” including the homeless, multigenerational families and all private care and nursing facilities; more encouragement of people to use face masks when out in public; and “better community outreach with more messaging to win buy-in of the community,” the letter said.

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Mayor Kirk Caldwell is holding a press conference to discuss the latest updates on the coronavirus outbreak in Hawaii.

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