The House COVID-19 Panel Has A Good Plan. Let's Do It — Now


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The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Chad Blair, Jessica Terrell and Julia Steele. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at cblair@civilbeat.org.


The Hawaii House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness came up with a decent plan this week to move the state out of its coronavirus morass.

Gov. David Ige and his Department of Health need to pay close attention to and work cooperatively with this committee to help Hawaii survive in these most trying of times.

Like many throughout the state, the House panel wants more information to provide more effective public communication about the pandemic. It is also calling for more oversight of the DOH and the administration, with the aim of obtaining greater transparency and accountability.

As panel member Ray Vara, president and chief executive of Hawaii Pacific Health, said, “Half of the population is scared because they don’t know what’s going on, and half of the population is not scared enough because they don’t know what’s going on.”

House Committee on COVID19. Raymond Vara, President and CEO of Hawaii Pacific Health speaks during committee meeting. July 13, 2020

Raymond Vara, president and CEO of Hawaii Pacific Health, will lead a new House subcommittee intended to improve the state’s communication and strategy to deal with COVID-19.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The House COVID-19 panel actually lives up to its billing as blue ribbon, representing lawmakers, the visitor industry, the medical profession, economists, business advocates and nonprofits. Their views and proposals should be heeded.

The panel’s co-chair, House Speaker Scott Saiki, said in an interview Wednesday that Vara will take the lead on the latest action, leading a subcommittee on communication and strategy. The subcommittee members, who could be announced as early as next week, will likely be comprised of medical professionals, including some from the major hospitals and insurers.

“The people serving on this subcommittee are individuals who just want to help the state,” said Saiki. “They want to help the general public combat COVID.”

Central to the new subcommittee’s mission is accurate, up-to-date data. While specifics are yet to come, Saiki said the committee will plug the data into the state’s color-coded matrix guiding how to reopen the state and when.

That will be be good because, as Dr. Mark Mugiishi — chief executive of HMSA and also a House panel member — has observed, the state has been inconsistent in updating and applying the matrix, leaving residents confused.

For now, Saiki is expecting the subcommittee will get buy-in from the Ige administration on its recommendations, mainly because decisions will be based on data that is hard to ignore.

But the governor and DOH have often resisted legislative and media inquiries for oversight so it remains to be seen how tough the Legislature will need to get.

Mixed messages from the Ige administration and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell also continue — how a beach is more dangerous than a gym when it comes to COVID-19, for instance. That’s exactly the kind of information the House committee wants to make clear and communicate effectively to the public.

A collective public understanding of how the virus is spreading and how to deal with it is critical for all our health and safety. The House committee may have faith that Ige will cooperate but it needs to be prepared to use all its oversight powers to force the issue if necessary, including subpoena power and compelling witnesses.

We are entering yet another disturbing phase of this pandemic. The state’s travel quarantine has been extended until the end of next month while Oahu will operate under new restrictions for the next four weeks. The economy is continuing to spiral downward at the same time federal financial aid is ending. More business will be closing, more people will be out of work, more hardship and heartbreak lies ahead.

Going into the fall, when flu season will certainly compound our health problems, the citizens of Hawaii need to know that the sacrifices they are making are working — and if something is not working, we need to know what is being done about it.

Tensions and fears are rising, as is anger at the authorities. Many of us are also understandably fatigued after months of lockdown or semi-lockdown.

If Hawaii must endure further restrictions, as is being proposed elsewhere, our leaders need to get it right and communicate with zero ambiguity. The new House subcommittee is promising a way forward that gives some hope we will someday be able to control the virus and get our economy back on track.


Read this next:

Don't Blow This Chance To Get Oahu's Virus Under Control


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About the Author

Civil Beat Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Chad Blair, Jessica Terrell and Julia Steele. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at cblair@civilbeat.org.


Latest Comments (0)

Would it be helpful if local healthcare providers sent personalized letters/emails to those of certain age and pre-existing conditions warning them of covid risks; dear so and so, our records indicate....age, diabetes, heart disease which put you in higher risk...our suggestion is...Obviously, that would be a lot of emails:) but somewhat targeted population?

Frank_Rizzo · 4 weeks ago

That sentence succinctly captures what is happening to all of us. The only missing element of our social predicament are the disagreements.For instance, some think that gathering in enclosed, hot, sweaty gyms with an atmosphere of a petri dish are a safer place from spreading the virus than being at the open beach with the salt spray and antiseptic sunshine.No matter how many disinfectant chemicals are sprayed on exercise equipment, I will maintain that the beach is more healthier place to weather this pandemic.This is just one disagreement, some don't think masks matter, some think herd immunity is the only answer. I suggest that we all need to accept compromises and sacrifices to what we personally believe will contain this virus. Only together can we stop its disruptions of everyone's lives. 

Joseppi · 4 weeks ago

Guam had 105 positives today, 71 at the Naval hospital, 444 tests. That's 16%.WOW. All arrivals, no matter what their origin shall quarantine in a government provided facility.  Like jail?

Vandy63 · 4 weeks ago

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