Lawmakers say state should do more to tackle dengue threat

Lawmakers say state should do more to tackle dengue threat
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Lawmakers are questioning whether the state is doing enough to stem Hawaii Island's dengue fever outbreak.

The number of people infected with the viral illness, transmitted by mosquitoes, grew to 88 on Friday. That's more than double the number of confirmed cases compared to a week ago.

"All across the Big Island my family, my friends, my constituents are very scared," said state Sen. Josh Green, whose district includes Kona and Kau.

On Friday, officials from the Department of Health and Civil Defense were hammered with questions from lawmakers about how they're handling the dengue outbreak.

State Sen. Russell Ruderman, who represents Pahala and Puna, said the Health Department is being "defensive" instead of clear about the challenges.

At the legislative briefing, lawmakers also questioned why information about the outbreak is getting out to doctors so slowly.

The Department of Health said it still hasn't notified all clinicians on the Big Island about the outbreak. Officials say it could take them until the end of the month to make sure everyone is in the loop.

"We've recognized it's an issue, which is why we're working with as many health care partners as possible," said state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park.

Green, who is also an emergency room physician, said in the briefing the Health Department showed a "reluctance and resistance to bring in all the help," said Senator Green.

He said he's frustrated that available resources aren't being used to their fullest potential.

"They need to utilize the National Guard to help them with whatever the most important activities are, so we can abate standing water immediately all over the region. So that we can spray right now in real time in each of the hotspots not just some of them. And I do think they should allow some fresh eyes from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and other agencies to come and be here," Green said.

In addition to spraying affected areas for mosquitoes and raising awareness about the outbreak, officials have also closed Hookena Beach Park, thought to be a high-risk area.

And this week, schools on the Big Island sent letters home with students to notify parents about the outbreak. Changes have also been made to custodial schedules so janitors can get rid of any standing water on campus.

Park said her biggest concern is communication, and making sure people know what preventive measures they can take to avoid being bit, such as wearing mosquito repellent and getting rid of standing water.

"My biggest concern is making certain that the entire population, all those rural areas is saturated with the message about dengue fever," Park said.

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