State announces plan to bolster contact tracing efforts as economy reopens

Updated: May. 14, 2020 at 7:07 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The governor announced plans Wednesday to ramp up contact tracing efforts in order to prepare for a possible increase in COVID-19 cases as the state’s economy reopens.

“We do believe that contact tracing is an important part of our arsenal,” said Gov. David Ige, at a news conference at the state Capitol building. “We do have a plan ... to be able to handle any surge that we see.”

The governor said the state would work with the University of Hawaii to train as many as 300 people to become contact tracers — finding close contacts to those who have tested positive for COVID-19 and monitoring them.

Right now, there are 80 contact tracers available statewide. State Health Director Bruce Anderson said new technology already in use will allow these individuals to handle as many as 20 cases a day — up from just five a day.

Meanwhile, Anderson said as many as 5,000 coronavirus tests can now be conducted statewide.

The plans to bolster contact tracing come as retailers and shopping malls are reopening, and there are discussions underway about more “medium-risk” businesses — including salons and dine-in restaurants — starting up again.

Plans are also afoot to reboot tourism, though that could be months away.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green says the state is looking into the possibility of requiring visitors to be tested before they board a plane to Hawaii. Congressman Ed Case also sent a letter to the FAA requesting testing for visitors.

The governor and public health officials have urged residents to prepare for an increase in cases as the economy reopens — and have stressed the importance of maintaining social distancing guidelines and wearing masks.

This story will be updated.

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