Ige, department heads acknowledge challenges of pandemic response over the last year

Updated: Mar. 22, 2021 at 8:00 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Gov. David Ige acknowledged Monday that his administration made missteps in its response to the COVID pandemic.

But he also pointed to positive signs, saying Hawaii’s lowest-in-the-nation per capita COVID infection and death rates are proof he put the community first.

”We have had to stand up programs that never existed before,” Ige said, speaking at a panel discussion Monday organized by Hawaii News Now to mark a year since the pandemic began.

”We put the health and safety of our community first.”

The panel also featured Lt. Gov. Josh Green and department heads for education, labor and health. The discussion was part of a week-long series from Hawaii News Now, “The Pandemic: A Year with Coronavirus.” Local leaders and experts joined us to reflect on the year of coronavirus in Hawaii.

Monday’s conversation focused on “Hawaii’s response” and touched on everything from Hawaii’s problem-plagued unemployment system to the slow pace of reopening Hawaii’s public schools.

The governor said looking back, he would try to improve his messaging to the public.

“I agree that sometimes the communication hasn’t been focused and aligned,” he said. He added that his top priority for the year ahead is getting a vaccine to anyone who wants one.

“Once that happens,” he said, “we can get back to the new normal.”

In the meantime, Green said, residents should be vigilant and continue to wear masks. ”I would recommend that people be careful right now,” he said. “I think that because we have done so well with the vaccination program, people are getting a little bit comfortable.”

In terms of education, schools Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto said she’s standing by the decision to lead the department the way she did, giving leeway to other complex area leaders to ultimately decide when it is safe for students to return to classes.

“I still stand by the way in which we’ve done this,” Kishimoto said. “We’ve been able to keep our schools open, but in a very different format. So we’re going to continue to lead in this way, again recognizing that not all school buildings are designed the same way, and not all communities are experiencing the pandemic the same way.”

She says the department is dedicated in moving forward to get students back to campuses by the fall semester.

Unemployment has been another contentious issue for those who lost their jobs during the pandemic.

Thousands have complained about delays in getting their payments. Outdated technology added to the backlog of processed claims for the unemployment office.

The director says they are constantly working to improve how claims are handled.

“Every day we reevaluate our processes and our procedures, and taking steps to meet the needs of the community, and make sure that everything we do is in the best interest of making sure those payments go out to those who are in need,” said Anne Perreira-Eustaquio, DLIR director.

She applauded the team for adapting the best they could in light of the pandemic.

”We have been tasked with many many different and new programs to implement throughout this year,” Perreira-Eustaquio added.

Meanwhile, our extended coverage of the pandemic’s impact in the islands over the last year will air on HNN’s Sunrise each morning starting Monday and be shared across our digital platforms.

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