Four units of the Hawaii National Guard are being called out to help in the state’s COVID-19 response, state officials said Friday.
Nearly 300 National Guard members will begin to assist the state government, county law enforcement and other agencies in various ways, including security, transportation and training across all islands.
“They’re very organized and flexible and have extensive training packages to help prepare men and women to respond in different ways,” Gov. David Ige said Friday afternoon at a press conference.
The guard includes soldiers and members of the U.S. Army and Air Force. The number of guard members on active duty has been doubled — from 130 active members to 292 with an additional 162 called for active duty.
At airports statewide, guard members will screen passengers for medical issues, conduct temperature checks and assist with administrative paperwork.
The National Guard members will also help the Hawaii Healthcare Emergency Management coalition to conduct medical supply and equipment inventories and distribute personal protective equipment to health care facilities. The additional manpower will help the HHEM coalition’s warehouse operations, said Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara, the state’s adjutant general and Hawaii Emergency Management Agency director.
They may even conduct trainings on how to wear PPE properly — an issue that has come up nationally.
“We may also be needed to disinfect and clean key government and public spaces as needed,” said Brig. Gen. Moses Kaoiwi Jr., the Joint Task Force Commander of the Hawaii National Guard.
Kaoiwi said the National Guard would support Kauai and any other future county government requests for assistance, including security checkpoints.
As of Friday, three people in the state had been arrested for breaking the quarantines imposed on travelers, according to Hara.
Anyone who arrives in Hawaii by airplane, including interisland travelers who are residents or non-residents must quarantine themselves for 14 days upon arrival, with no exceptions. Violators face a $5,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
Hara did not provide details about the arrests.
Under the state’s emergency stay-at-home order, groups of more than 10 people are discouraged. Those who have not traveled within the last two weeks are allowed to conduct essential errands such as grocery shopping or seeking medical care.
There have been several homeless non-Hawaii resident arrivals amid the mandatory quarantine rule, state officials said.
One homeless person was sent to an Oahu shelter designated for folks without a house or hotel to go to for quarantine, and three other homeless people were arrested on Kauai, Hara said.
Kauai County police have been conducting COVID-19 related checkpoints, asking drivers if they are heading to or from essential work and errands. Kauai also has a 9 p.m. curfew, and a dozen people have received misdemeanor citations for disobeying it.
ACLU Hawaii Executive Director Joshua Wisch said that the activities assigned to the National Guard at this point appear to be aligned with humanitarian assistance needed in these types of emergency scenarios, especially when civilian agencies and resources are overwhelmed.
“We want to make sure the public health experts are driving the response, not the military,” he said. “Where we’d start to have concerns is when the National Guard begins to carry out law enforcement activities.”
Certain safeguards should be put in place, such as maintaining civilian oversight and control, ensuring transparency and putting a time limit on activities, Wisch said.
When asked to clarify exactly how the Hawaii National Guard planned to help enforce the governor’s order, HI-EMA spokeswoman Arlina Agbayani said there are currently no restrictions on public movement.
A state Department of Defense spokeswoman said exactly what the guard members would be doing hasn’t been made clear.
“As of right now, the scope of that work and what that would look like hasn’t been specified,” Krystal Kawabata, an information specialist with the Hawaii Department of Defense, told Civil Beat by email. “Soldiers have been activated on Kauai, but are not providing any law enforcement support yet — as of today.”
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