Ige: Hawaii doesn’t have enough contact tracers for COVID-19 surge

Hundreds of people turned out to a drive-thru test site Saturday in Waipio.
Hundreds of people turned out to a drive-thru test site Saturday in Waipio.(Hawaii News Now)
Updated: Jul. 31, 2020 at 10:04 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The governor acknowledged Thursday that Hawaii does not have enough contact tracers to handle a skyrocketing number of new COVID-19 cases.

Hawaii has seen triple-digit increases in new coronavirus infections for two consecutive days. On Thursday, 124 new cases were reported statewide ― all but four of which were on Oahu ― bringing the number of active COVID-19 cases in Hawaii to 763.

At a news conference Thursday, Ige said the state is exploring reassigning some state workers to act as contact tracers or deploying National Guard members to handle the surge in infections.

Despite growing concerns about contact tracing capacity from Honolulu’s mayor and others, the state Health Department has insisted they have enough contact tracers to handle a surge.

“We have 179 DOH staff available for contact tracing, plus we’ve trained an additional 450 individuals from UH and hired 20 of them,” state Health Director Bruce Anderson said on Wednesday.

But a day later, Ige painted a very different picture.

“We don’t have the staff that we need right now to respond to the 109 cases Monday and then the 120 plus cases today,” the governor said. “We are looking at whether we can immediately reassign other state workers but also look at deploying National Guard health care workers.”

Contact tracers are charged with alerting close contacts of someone who has gotten sick that they should quarantine and potentially be tested.

Health officials say they are essential to reining in the virus because they can prevent those who are exposed to the virus to unknowingly infecting others.

The new cases Thursday put the number of cases in Hawaii so far this month at 1,083. That’s more than the total seen from March to June, when the islands confirmed 937 cases.

This story will be updated.

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