The state is moving forward with developing its plan to test tourists for COVID-19 before coming to Hawaiʻi.
During the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness on Monday, lawmakers, medical experts and state officials discussed the recent rise in positive test results for the coronavirus and plans for screening trans-Pacific travelers.
Hawaiʻi Medical Service Association President & CEO Dr. Mark Mugiishi said many people are worried about the recent increase in the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus both in Hawaiʻi and on the mainland. Mugiishi said the numbers are worrisome, but it is “too early to push the panic button.”
Mugiishi said committee members expected the increase as the state’s economy reopens and more people venture out into the public. He said that we continue to have adequate patient capacity in our health care system to handle the increase in patients.
Raymond Vara, President & CEO of Hawaiʻi Pacific Health, said the state has the responsibility to conduct testing and contact tracing, but in order to keep the number of people infected down everyone must continue to do our part by wearing masks, washing their hands frequently, and maintaining physical distancing.
Chris Tatum, President and CEO of the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority, said a draft plan for testing travelers could be released this week and will be vetted by all government and tourism-related groups over the next few days. A communications plan will also be developed to make sure visitors and business know and follow the testing requirements before coming here so they are not subject to a quarantine.
The committee also discussed tracking the spending of CARES Act funds, and heard reports from the Housing and Homeless, and Agriculture and Food subcommittees.
James Koshiba, co-founder of Hui Aloha, gave a report for the Housing and Homelessness Subcommittee. Koshiba said the Legislature included $100 million in CARES Act funds for rental and housing assistance which will benefit an estimated 34,000 households. The program will provide a $500 monthly subsidy or 50% of rent, whichever is lesser, for up to five months from August 1 to December 31, 2020.
Koshiba said the need for housing support is expected to continue into 2021.
Lauren Mahne, vice president of Strategy and Transformation at Kamehameha Schools, reported for the CARES Act subcommittee which was formed last week. Mahne said the purpose of the subcommittee is to monitor the CARES Act funds to see the monies are spent in a timely way and as intended. The subcommittee will also provide oversight and track how the funds are spent for the House committee.
Rep. Richard H.K. Onishi reported that the Agriculture & Food subcommittee is still forming and will focus on how the pandemic has affected agricultural production and food distribution.
Onishi said issues the subcommittee will be looking into include the shortage of labor for local farms, food distribution systems, and getting government institutions such as schools and retail food stores more involved with the local industry.
The House Select Committee will meet again on Monday, July 13.
For more information about the committee and to see related documents go to https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/specialcommittee.aspx?comm=cov&year=2020.