WASHINGTON — Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is demanding Gov. David Ige fire Bruce Anderson and Sarah Park, two top officials with the state Department of Health who have been leading the response to the growing coronavirus pandemic that so far has claimed the lives of six people in the islands.

Gabbard says both Anderson, who is the state’s director of health, and Park, the state epidemiologist, have put the lives of Hawaii’s residents at risk by their tepid approach to testing for COVID-19 in the community and slow action to contain the virus by delayed implementation of travel restrictions, quarantines and stay-at-home orders.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard announces her run for president.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard says Hawaii Gov. David Ige should resign if he refuses to fire two of his top coronavirus experts. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Now, Anderson and Park are either grossly out of touch or extremely negligent,” Gabbard said in a video she posted on social media. “If they are allowed to continue, they will unnecessarily be putting the people of Hawaii in greater danger, which will certainly lead to more infections, greater suffering and deaths.”

The congresswoman says if Ige won’t fire Anderson and Park then he himself should resign and allow Lt. Gov. Josh Green, an emergency room doctor, to take over.

“I do not say this lightly,” Gabbard said, “but our lives and the lives of our loved ones are at stake, and I cannot remain silent.”

Gabbard made her announcement shortly before Ige held his regular daily press briefing. By doing so she inserted herself into an already politically fraught situation that has seen infighting at the highest levels between Ige, Green and others both in and out of government who are trying to contain the spread of the virus.

Green, who is planning to run for governor in 2022, has not been shy about criticizing the health department’s approach to COVID-19 testing. He’s argued repeatedly that the state needs to be more aggressive so that it can find out just how prevalent the virus is in the islands and mount a better response.

Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson Coronavirus press conference.
Health Department Director Bruce Anderson addresses the media during a press conference with Gov. David Ige. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Both Anderson and Park disagree and have taken a more conservative approach to testing only those individuals who display serious symptoms even though asymptomatic carriers can pass the virus on to others.

Anderson and Green said Wednesday that asymptomatic people who had close contact with someone who had tested positive would now be tested.

Green has been a frequent guest in Gabbard’s telephone town halls to give constituents the latest developments about the outbreak. And like him, the congresswoman believes more testing is needed to understand the full scope of the problem on the islands so that it can be contained.

When Ige was asked about Gabbard’s demands during Wednesday’s press briefing, he defended both Anderson and Park while proclaiming that Hawaii was somehow better off than the rest of the country.

“I have full faith and confidence in Dr. Anderson and Dr. Sarah Park and the entire team at the Department of Health,” Ige said.

“If you look at the statistics of what is happening here in Hawaii, we are outperforming virtually every state in the country. We have the situation under control. We have sufficient health care facilities and equipment, so it’s interesting that she would make that comment.”

Anderson also dismissed Gabbard’s comments when asked to respond.

“She has her own opinions, I respect those and (have) no comment,” he said.

In an interview with Civil Beat Wednesday, Green said he did not want to address the congresswoman’s statements.

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