As it struggles to respond to COVID-19, the state is again refusing help for contact tracing

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Updated: Aug. 13, 2020 at 10:06 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Health Department continues to reject offers for funds and workers to help with contact tracing, officials tell Hawaii News Now.

City Council Chairman Ikaika Anderson wants them to reconsider.

“I’d like to ask the Department of Health why aren’t you folks accepting the City and County of Honolulu’s offer to utilize some of our federal CARES Act money to train some of our locally unemployed people to do contact tracing,” Anderson said.

The federally-funded CARES Act provided $1.2 billion in money to combat COVID-19, and about $300 million was provided to Oahu.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said last week that Health Department Director Bruce Anderson turned down the offer because they didn’t need the additional funds.

But since then, it’s become clear the state’s current contact tracing program is overwhelmed. DOH now admits that and is rushing to bring in more people.

Caldwell said they didn’t just offer money, they offered workers.

“The City and County of Honolulu was willing to pay contact tracing folks after training. $20 an hour to start and some of these folks are unemployed,” Anderson said.

Caldwell added the offer still stands.

Thursday, a DOH spokesperson sent a statement to Hawaii News Now saying they are unable to accept CARES funds right now, “While the City & County’s offer may seem generous, we have no insight into whether CARES laws and rules allow the transfer of funds between jurisdictions.”

Advocates in the Pacific Islander community also reached out to DOH saying they have people who can assist. “We’re already plugged in,” said Sheri Daniels, executive director of Papa Ola Lokahi.

That group — made up of Micronesians, Samoans and Tongas — has been pleading for help and clearly more contact tracers familiar with their cultures are needed.

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