Sometimes, absence speaks louder than words. On Thursday, it spoke volumes.
Gov. David Ige convened a press conference Thursday afternoon to address Hawai‘i’s single worst day in its fight against the coronavirus, which saw 355 new cases identified statewide. But there were two notable absences from the podium.
Department of Health (DOH) Director Dr. Bruce Anderson and State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park, who has been leading Hawai‘i’s COVID-19 contact tracing efforts since they began, did not participate in the news conference after appearing at dozens of press events in the preceding months.
In their place at the podium was DOH Deputy Director Danette Wong Tomiyasu. Reporting to Tomiyasu will be the recently hired Dr. Emily Roberson, the department’s new disease investigation branch chief, as the governor has decided to realign DOH leadership where coronavirus contact tracing efforts are concerned.
Tomiyasu will still report to Anderson, who remains in his position as Health Director.
“I directed the Department of Health, and specifically the deputy director, Danette Wong Tomiyasu, to take charge of the effort,” Ige said. “Sarah Park had broad responsibility in the Department of Health, and we believe more resources needed to be brought to the challenge.”
Park came under fire last week when state senators and Lieutenant Governor Josh Green made an abrupt and unannounced visit to the state’s contact tracing center to find an understaffed, overwhelmed contract tracing contingent. The surprise visit, senators said, came after what they characterized as a lack of transparency from the department as to the status of contact tracing efforts in Hawai‘i.
While Park’s position within that contact tracing effort appears to be the primary professional casualty of the senators’ visit, the governor made it clear Thursday that she will continue on in her role as Hawai‘i’s chief epidemiologist.