Senator claims state dragging its feet on thermal screenings, mass testings at airports

Senator claims state dragging its feet on thermal screenings, mass testings at airports
Honolulu Airport (File Image) (Source: Archive)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Installing $20 million in thermal screening devices at Hawaii’s airports is a key part of re-opening the state’s tourism economy.

But one state lawmaker said the devices won’t be available soon enough and he blames the state for the delays.

“I think it’s frustrating. It’s sheer incompetence. People’s lives are at risk and we are just dragging our feet. That is totally unacceptable," said state Sen. Glenn Wakai, chair of the Senate Committee on Energy, Economic Development and Tourism.

Wakai said in March, Hawaii tourism and airport officials met with representatives from Taiwan, which was using the devices at its airports to screen for people with fever.

“They went absolutely no place with that idea," he said.

“The businesses are going to languish until we figure out how to secure our airports. We have to make our airports as bullet-proof as possible. Right now we’re using chicken wire to keep people out."

State Sen. Glenn Wakai said delays in installing thermal screening devices at the airports will make it harder to reopen tourism.
State Sen. Glenn Wakai said delays in installing thermal screening devices at the airports will make it harder to reopen tourism. (Source: None)

As Hawaii plans for a return of tourism, these devices could be a big part of the defense against a new surge.

But the state said the federal government blocked buying the devices with money from airport revenue.

It said the funding has to come from the Legislature, which was in recess and only now is appropriating the money.

“HDOT is not waiting and is already moving forward with plans for enhancing its own passenger verification process, which is already the most robust verification in the country," said Ross Higashi, Deputy Director for the Airports Division at the Department of Transportation.

Wakai also criticized the state for dragging its feet in purchasing the Abbott mass testing devices for the airport. But in this case, he placed much of the blame on the Department of Health.

Wakai showed us emails from Higashi quoting the DOH’s Chief Epidemiologist Sarah Park saying that the testing devices could only be used in “a laboratory biosafety hood.”

But an Abbot representative has said that was wrong and that testing could be done at an airport.

The state now says it’s not practical because it is too slow to test enough passengers.

“So three an hour," Gov. David Ige said, during a Facebook Live session Thursday.

“You wouldn’t have enough machines or they wouldn’t be able to deal with the volume of people coming in."

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