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Ige to Kouchi: Senators’ visit to DOH was ‘neither respectful nor appropriate'

Updated: Aug. 16, 2020 at 12:06 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a newly obtained letter to Hawaii’s Senate president, Gov. David Ige calls out the lawmakers who made an unannounced visit to the health department earlier this month.

The Aug. 11 letter to Senate President Ron Kouchi scolds members of the state Senate’s COVID-19 task force for their actions. It also asks Kouchi to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

The letter says, “When disagreements exist, there are respectful and appropriate ways to address them. What happened on Friday was neither respectful nor appropriate.”

He echoed concerns about the purpose of the visit and privacy issues in protecting sensitive health information. Concerns very similar to those from Health Director Bruce Anderson, who previously called the move “blatant political showmanship.”

But in Kouchi’s response, he says leaders simply need to work together to get things done for the people of Hawaii when it matters most.

Kouchi stands by the actions of the senators, saying the visit brought to light the faults of the department — particularly in its contact tracing program.

“The bottom line is, at the end of the day, the changes were made last week to try to ensure and assure the public that we have their best interest at heart. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that we are creating a safe environment,” Kouchi said.

In his responding letter, Kouchi says it’s not the first time representatives went to a department unannounced.

He pointed to a recent visit to the Department of Labor and Industrial relations. He claims there was no major backlash that followed, and says this visit to the DOH was necessary.

“You know, my sense is, plan for the worst, hope for the best, and it seemed like we were planning for dealing with what we had,” Kouchi said. “We were confident that it wasn’t going to take a turn like it did.”

He adds that the focus going forward should be expanding tracing in a beneficial way for the community.

Like in Massachusetts: Contact tracers and community partners don’t just inform people of possible exposures, their program takes it a step further by helping individuals get the supplies they need while in quarantine. That limits the spread of the virus while ensuring people have day-to-day necessities.

Hawaii is nowhere near such a program, but Lt. Gov. Josh Green agrees: The task at hand is protecting the public.

“The fight that goes on perhaps between the legislative branch and the executive branch, while challenging, will not be something our kupuna can tolerate, or what any of us will worry about as we’re in the trenches fighting the disease,” Green said.

We reached out to the governor’s office for comment, but did not receive one by the time of publication.

“I think that with all of the attention that’s come into focus, it’s not only moved us into doing what I believe is the right thing, but also, it is really a call to action from our community,” Kouchi concluded.

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