Following a new warning to Americans that the coronavirus will eventually begin to affect U.S. communities, Hawaii state lawmakers said Tuesday they plan to draft legislation that would provide funding to address a potential coronavirus outbreak in the islands.

Americans should prepare for a potential coronavirus outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Tuesday at a national news conference. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said it was not a matter of “if,” but “when” the virus will start to spread in U.S. communities.

Rep. Sylvia Luke, chair of the House Finance Committee, said Tuesday the committee will search for a bill to replace with new language that could provide an appropriation to the state Department of Health in case it needs support for quarantines and monitoring.

It is also possible that the Hawaii Department of Health will need money to purchase additional thermal scanners, she said, although she did not specify what amount might be needed.

Rep. Sylvia Luke, chair of the House Finance Committee, said Tuesday the committee plans to draft a bill that could provide funding for coronavirus prevention efforts. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

“We’d rather have a vehicle moving to address all these issues as opposed to going out of session and not addressing it,” she said. “We understand that the speaker has encouraged us to not do gut and replace, but in certain situations like the Kauai flood we need to have certain mechanisms where we allow the Legislature to address various issues.”

In It For the Long Haul

While there are no cases of COVID-19 in Hawaii, active travel restrictions and self-quarantine advisories remain.

DOH said Tuesday in a statement that “state health officials do expect to eventually identify cases in Hawaii because this is a global health threat to our entire nation. At this time, the imminent threat here in Hawaii is low.”

DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo told Civil Beat Tuesday there is an ongoing discussion among state leaders about “support for long term efforts, because we know we are in this for the long haul.”

“DOH and other state departments are working on determining their needs,” she said.

The health department advised families to prepare a kit similar to those used during hurricane seasons, including a 14-day supply of food and water, as well as a three-month supply of medications.


Masked flight attendants exit the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport exit for international arrivals.
The U.S. State Department has advised Americans to not travel to China, South Korea or Japan. At the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, flight attendants wear masks. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Anyone who traveled to China within the past two weeks is subject to self-quarantine at home and is requested to refrain from making contact with others as a precaution. Health department officials check in daily with them by phone and monitor their health.

The number of people in self-quarantine fluctuates as people complete the 14-day home quarantine period. As of Tuesday, there were 61 people self-monitoring with public health supervision, including 55 on Oahu, four on Hawaii Island, one on Maui and another on Kauai. Some are travelers and others are Hawaii residents.

The U.S. State Department has maintained a level-4 travel advisory for China, urging people to not travel to the country. The State Department also issued a level-2 travel advisory for South Korea and Japan.

Rep. Nadine Nakamura said Hawaii must remain on guard for the virus which is becoming a global threat.

“We need to take preventive measures and make sure we are armed with the equipment, facilities and testing kits that we need to address it, and nip it in the bud, if it should come to the state,” Nakamura said.

The first cases were reported in China in December. By Jan. 30, the World Health Organization designated it as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Cases have been confirmed in 37 countries, with the majority of cases and deaths in China. The most severe outbreak outside of China appears to be occurring in South Korea, where 169 new cases were confirmed this week.

In the U.S. there have been 14 confirmed cases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the first cases were linked to a live animal market but the virus is now spreading from person to person, although scientists and medical professionals have yet to determine how easily.

Elderly people and adults with chronic medical conditions may be at higher risk and are encouraged to postpone travel.

The U.S. is testing an experimental drug to treat the coronavirus, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Register to attend our next Civil Cafe: Legislative Update. Panelists include House Speaker Scott Saiki, Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English, and Civil Beat public health reporter Eleni Gill. It’s at noon, Wednesday, March 4, in Room 329 at the Hawaii State Capitol.

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