The Legislature Needs To Force Ige's Hand On The Public Disclosure Of COVID-19 Data - Honolulu Civil Beat

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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.


The Ige administration continues to refuse to release critical data and respond to questions from the press, the public and even other government agencies. That’s unacceptable and it needs to end now.

Members of the Hawaii Legislature, the Auditor’s Office, Honolulu environmental officials and a state prison reform commission have tried to learn more about how the coronavirus is spreading in Hawaii as they try to deal with it in their own areas.

But the state Department of Health has stalled and even refused in some cases to cooperate with other public officials.

How do we stop this incredible breach of public trust by the people who work for Gov. David Ige when the governor himself is unwilling to step in?

Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Anderson, General Hara and Governor Ige walk into press conference before press conference on contact tracing and the newly opened spaces allowing for the ability to contact trace. August 19, 2020

With poor communication and lack of transparency about the pandemic, Department of Health Director Bruce Anderson and Gov. David Ige, above, are failing in their public duty.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

At this point, our best bet seems to be the Hawaii House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness, a blue-ribbon panel made up of lawmakers and some of Hawaii’s top business and community leaders. It absolutely must provide better oversight of the Ige administration’s pandemic effort and then be the ones to share critical information with the citizens.

The House committee — which is scheduled to reconvene Monday morning — has already called for stronger oversight, more data and better communication. Now, it must immediately wield its subpoena power and ability to compel witnesses to obtain the information it needs to make sure public safety is being protected and our interests well-served.

And the Senate needs to consider resurrecting its short-lived special investigative committee to do the same.

It’s been nearly a month since House Speaker Scott Saiki, who co-chairs the committee, asked Health Director Bruce Anderson in an Aug. 6 letter to start providing “sufficient data that enables the general public to make sound decisions regarding personal and community health and safety.”

Saiki says the department has given him some information, but not the kind of detail that makes sense to really understand how the virus is spreading.

“Delay in disclosure may also exacerbate misinformation and the public’s mistrust of government when reliable information and government action are needed the most to allay the public’s concerns and overcome the pandemic.” — Hawaii Office of Information Practices

Specifically, he wants the date and location of transmission; the type of activity or event where the transmission occurred; whether the infected individual may have infected others; whether the infected individual was masked; and whether the infected individual was symptomatic.

“It’s common sense,” he told Civil Beat on Saturday. “If cases are really rising from funerals and weddings, that should be the focus of a shutdown order. You may not have to shut down every single restaurant and hair salon.”

We should already be doing this, six months into the pandemic. But we’re not, and it’s not even clear why.

State Auditor Les Kondo ran into a big roadblock when his office tried to find out more about contact tracing.

The city and University of Hawaii researchers were similarly stonewalled when they tried to get cooperation from DOH in their study of sewage and whether it can serve as an early warning indicator for COVID-19 infections.

Even a prison oversight committee and a state senator were prohibited from talking publicly about what’s going on with the spread of the disease in the state’s correctional facilities. An assistant attorney general cut off discussion during a public meeting last week and advised the commission it needed to discuss details in private. Sen. Clarence Nishihara was told he couldn’t disclose information either.

Ige and the health department continue to promise more data, but it never seems to materialize. The administration has also lately taken to using Ige’s suspension of the state public records law — something Ige did with an emergency order months ago — as a convenient excuse for not responding to information requests.

“It has been a challenge to provide data on the pandemic response,” Ige said in a statement to Civil Beat on Sunday. “But we know this is critical and are developing better ways to track and report data and health metrics. We will soon be able to provide this information to the community on a regular basis.”

To be sure, the health department — like other agencies — is overburdened during this time of crisis. But last week, even the governor’s own Office of Information Practices urged the state to be more forthcoming.

“Delay in disclosure may also exacerbate misinformation and the public’s mistrust of government when reliable information and government action are needed the most to allay the public’s concerns and overcome the pandemic,” OIP said, noting that includes the data DOH continues to withhold citing privacy or medical concerns — exactly the kind of information Saiki and the House committee are looking for.

The House COVID-19 committee needs to turn up the pressure on Ige and his administration to dramatically improve government transparency. There has never been a more critical time for public information to flow freely to the public.


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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)

So glad to read Lee Cataluna’s always timely and spot-on reports. Civil Beat is the perfect venue! E komo mai.

oriong91 · 2 months ago

Okay now remind me again, when do we get a vote the governor out of office?

Scotty_Poppins · 2 months ago

If I'm not mistaken, Hawaii has a democracy based on elected representatives that are appointed to enact laws and conduct gov. business that serves the needs of the people.I do think, like a few others, that we have a hybridized system, some would say a degenerated system of local gov. that has a self-serving agenda that postures in a kabuki drama acting out the hypocrisies of the human predicament.This virus has stripped the Kabuki actors of their make-up that once instilled confidence in the audience that they were trusted workers in the service of a representational government.With the help of CB we will prevail in the pursuit of self-rule through a democratic process. 

Joseppi · 2 months ago

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