What can the Legislature do this session to improve the ongoing response to COVID-19?
We look forward to continued collaboration with the Legislature to address the ongoing and changing needs of the pandemic response. Flexibility will be critical as we implement programs that protect health, revive the state’s economy and strengthen our communities in a dynamic environment.
Of course, one of our greatest challenges will be managing the revenue gap while providing the resources necessary to meet the needs of communities across the state.
As the distribution of the vaccine ramps up, what do you see as the main challenges ahead?
One of the main challenges that we will face will be the issue of notifying Hawaii residents when it is their turn to get vaccinated. The notification of employees at the hospitals was relatively easy because of their established lines of communication within the workplace.
We will not only have to notify the general public that it’s their turn to be vaccinated and coordinate with their particular health care organizations from Hilo to Hanalei, but we’ll also have to be ready with thawed vaccine and someone to administer that vaccine when they arrive.
The state Department of Health, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) and others continue to work on the messaging to ensure success for the largest population.
Any plans or preparedness concerns for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency in 2021?
In addition to ongoing operations with the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, vaccine availability and distribution, HI-EMA will also be monitoring the flow activity from Kilauea, as well as heavy winds, flooding, brush fires, shoreline dangers, and other hazards that usually occur during the wet period of the year.
As we look forward to the 2021 hurricane season, the readiness of the state will be tested as the long battle with COVID-19 progresses. With challenging fiscal times, HI-EMA’s agility with limited and reduced resources at hand will prove invaluable toward preparing and protecting the people of Hawaii against natural and human-caused hazards.
What will be the Hawaii National Guard’s ongoing role in the pandemic?
The Hawaii National Guard (HING) will remain on orders to support the state until the end of March.
The ongoing missions that the HING Joint Task Force are doing include airport passenger screening in Honolulu, Lihue, Kahului and Kona, assisting the state Department of Health (DOH) with vaccination registration and check-in, contact tracing support with the DOH, COVID-19 testing site support at the prisons and mobile locations when needed, and harbor passenger screening on Molokai and Lanai.
The HING has been supporting our state during some of the roughest events the past few years- multiple tropical storms and hurricanes, the 2018 lava flow and now COVID-19. The Hawaii National Guard will always be there. Ready.
How are you holding up, yourself? What helped you cope with 2020?
I am doing much better than earlier in 2020. Hawaii has done really well preventing an uncontrollable surge as in the rest of the country.
The success is primarily a result of the sacrifices of the members of our community. I am concerned, however, that large social gatherings during the New Year’s holiday will result in another major surge in Hawaii. I believe that previous deployments, support from friends and family, and the drive to save lives and prevent human suffering helped me to cope with the stressors of the COVID-19 public health crisis.
The rollout of the vaccine also improved my morale, as this is what I believe will get our state, nation and the world back to a new acceptable norm.
Can you list some of the Guard’s COVID-19 tasks?
Guard members supporting response: more than 1,800.
Task Force Oahu: airport screening and flow control, Oahu Community Correctional Center screening, support city surge testing, flu vaccination clinic support with DOH and Department of Education
Task Force Medical: medical support, Keehi Lagoon screening facility.
Task Force Maui: Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR) security, COVID mapping assistance, logistical support, screening at airports and Lahaina and Lanai harbors, support in outreach and education and for passenger ferry, Lanai.
Task Force Kauai: airport screening, checkpoints, DLIR security, Emergency Management Agency call center.
Task Force Hawaii: pedestrian traffic control Hilo, DLIR security, Hilo and Kailua-Kona, COVID mapping assistance, Kona airport screening; testing site support, Keauhou; food distribution support with Hawaii Food Basket.
Team Malama at Hawaii Convention Center: COVID mapping support.