Gov. David Ige issued an emergency proclamation on Friday to bolster state efforts to combat the dengue outbreak on Hawaii Island and to prepare for the possibility of other vector-borne diseases like Zika reaching the state.

The proclamation allows the state to tap into its major disasters fund, suspends certain provisions of the state’s procurement code, and give the Department of Health the authority to go onto private property to eliminate mosquitos even if owners object.

“This proclamation is about being prepared,” Ige said, and making sure the state can “combat vector-borne diseases in each county.”

So far the state has identified 255 cases of dengue on the Big Island since October — by far the largest dengue outbreak in the United States since the 1940s.

The current dengue fever outbreak began in October.
The current dengue fever outbreak began last October. Hawaii Department of Health

A big focus of the governor’s announcement Friday was efforts to rebuild the state’s vector control department, which slashed during state budget cuts seven years ago.

Although the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has praised Hawaii’s response to the current outbreak, the agency also warned that Hawaii’s resources were stretched thin and had “critical deficiencies” for addressing future outbreaks.

“There is no new emergency,” said Department of Health Director Virginia Pressler, adding that the proclamation was what the agency needed to “take this statewide in order to protect our visitors and our citizens.”

The state’s emergency management agency will be working with all county mayors and civil defense coordinators to make sure that “statewide we are ahead of the game” in responding to possible mosquito-borne diseases, Ige said.

The Department of Health is preparing to hire a staff entomologist — a scientist who studies insects and helps track the spread of diseases like dengue — a communications specialist, and eight additional vector control workers.

State vector control workers who have been sent to the Big Island will then be able to go back to the islands they are based on to work on mosquito control there.

Lawmakers are also working on adding money for the rebuilding vector control division and making sure that the efforts being made on Hawaii Island can also be available on other islands, Pressler said.

Hawaii Island Mayor Billy Kenoi issued an emergency proclamation Monday to help bolster efforts to combat the ongoing dengue outbreak.

Ige’s proclamation also comes on the heels of growing concern over the spread of zika, an illness spread by the same mosquitos.

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