One of the most prominent public officials in Hawaii with medical expertise on the coronavirus has been ostracized by the Ige administration.
Several sources with direct knowledge of the state’s response to COVID-19 say Gov. David Ige has ordered his Cabinet officials and others to not consult Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who is a medical doctor.
He has also been told to leave press conferences involving the governor and the Hawaii Department of Health.
The governor’s directive has perplexed people familiar with the severity of the coronavirus crisis, which on Wednesday tallied 90 cases.
Green has been a frequent presence in the media to talk about the virus and what the state should do to slow its spread. He’d called for disallowing cruise ships to disembark, to increase testing of people and to implement a travel quarantine well before such actions became official policy.
Green has made it no secret that he’s disappointed with the administration’s response to the coronavirus crisis, particularly with what he sees as the inadequacy of the Department of Health’s testing program.
“It’s a total fail,” he said last week. “We have to protect our people. We have to test those who are sick and every municipality across the country knows now we have to test and find where the disease is and test any contact cases and that’s the way to slow the spread of this disease.”
Civil Beat interviewed a number of state and health officials who have been involved in the response effort for this story and agreed to let them speak anonymously because they feared jeopardizing their own positions in the effort if they were quoted.
They say Green’s background and outspokenness is seen as a threat to the governor and some of his Cabinet. Some suggest that politics is a factor, too, as Green is already running to replace the term-limited Ige in 2022. And he’s likely going to be running against Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, an Ige ally.
Update: Cindy McMillan, the governor’s communications director, did not have a response to Civil Beat’s inquiries Tuesday.
By 5 p.m., Jodi Leong, the deputy communications director and press secretary, said Green “is still the administration’s healthcare liaison. He is tasked with evaluating the medical community’s readiness to deliver care to individuals who test positive for COVID-19.”
Leong also shared a statement from Ige that she said was posted on the governor’s official website and on social media:
The Lt. Governor is not banned from news conferences and meetings.
In this new COVID-19 reality, we are reinventing the way state government conducts business while implementing appropriate social distancing in meetings, news conferences and other activities.
These gatherings are now limited to no more than 10 people. Therefore, we are bringing in those who are most directly involved with specific topics that are being discussed at these meetings and news conferences.
Leong was asked why, if Green is still the liaison, is he not among the 10 people?
She replied, “We are bringing people to the table who are experts in the topics that are being discussed at specific news conferences and meetings.”
Green said in a statement, “All I care about right now is slowing the virus and saving lives.”
He added, “It would be hard for me to believe that any governor would remove their colleague from important responsibilities for doing that.”
The lieutenant governor noted that he previously worked on health care crises in Hawaii as a National Health Corps scholar and an emergency room doctor.
Ige’s apparent uncomfortableness was observed at a press conference Monday when he ordered Hawaii residents to stay at home with many exceptions.
A MauiTime Weekly reporter asked about Green’s conspicuous absence since he was the governor’s liaison on COVID-19 but hasn’t appeared in any press conferences.
Ige’s response: “As the president issued his presidential proclamation, we converted into the emergency operation center, where Kenneth Hara assumed incident command and the entire disaster preparedness structure went into effect.”
Ige continued: “General Hara is the incident commander, and coordinating all activities, all of the partners are involved directly through the emergency operations center. That connects to the emergency operations center in each and every county. And we are using the standard emergency responses for identifying needs and requirements that are feeding through our emergency response mechanism.”
When Hara was asked if he was still communicating with Green, the general replied, “I am still in communication with the lieutenant governor. But I’m also getting most of my recommendation advice from the Department of Health and Healthcare Association of Hawaii. But I do take advice from the lieutenant governor.”
Green, formerly a state legislator representing the Big Island, was the organizer of a major public health effort in December when he led a Hawaii team to Samoa to deal with an outbreak of measles.
Civil Beat reporter Blaze Lovell contributed to this report.
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